Things are different in the Nazareth Circus, also known as Borough Council. A small and insular group of autocrats think that they, and not the people on the front lines, make things happen. They refused to do anything about Mayor Carl Srtye, who actually admitted to skimming money from a volunteer fire company. They rallied around him until the District Attorney insisted that he resign if he wanted ARD, a special program for first offenders.
These Council members have also interfered in police operations. One of them, Larry Stoudt, was actually charged for interfering with a state investigation into illegal gambling at the local social clubs. He illegally pressured the Chief to run the license plate of someone he suspected was an undercover agent
They look down their noses at the road crew, too, disparaging them as "the Mexicans."
Herman is one of those Mexicans. He used to work on Nazareth's road crew. He was hired there in October 1994. He was unhappy at how he and his fellow workers were treated. He belonged to a union, but the steward was Larry Stoudt's nephew, Robert. .
After 21 years, Herman decided it was time to go somewhere else. He gave notice that he was retiring in June 2015. In addition to rolling over his pension, he asked the Borough to reimburse him for his clothing allowance, accumulated sick pay and longevity. This request was pursuant to a written employment contract with the borough, under which he was contractually entitled to these benefits.
Herman received a response from Solicitor Al Pierce on July 10, denying his request.
"Nazareth Borough Council has accepted your resignation, effective 6/26/15. Nazareth Borough Council has determined that your termination did not constitute retirement and that you are therefore not eligible for a half a year's clothing allowance, longevity pay for 2015 and sick day pay. Council has authorized the payment of wages as provided by the final payroll for your period of employment."I was unaware that Nazareth Borough Council had the authority to ignore its own employment contract. I decided to look at the minutes of their July 6, 2015 meeting to see whether Herman's resignation was accepted, as Pierce claims. I also looked to see if the Borough Council rejected his claim for benefits, as Pierce claimed.
As I suspected, the minutes make no such mention. That means one of two things. Either Borough Council made these decisions behind closed doors in violation of the state Sunshine Act, or Pierce is talking out of his ass.
Now Borough Council is allowed to discuss personnel matters in the back room, but all decisions must be made publicly. In Nazareth, the state Sunshine Act is regarded more as a recommendation than as law. That's what you'd expect from an outfit that thinks it can unilaterally disregard an employment contract, especially when it involves one of the "Mexicans."
Herman ended up suing.
"You can only take so much," he told me, and hired Connie Nelson, a prominent Easton lawyer and former assistant District Attorney. His is the seventh lawsuit filed by an employee against Nazareth since 2013. Unlike the other lawsuits, which involve the deprivation of civil rights, Herman just wanted his benefits. He went to small claims court, and got a judgment against Nazareth for $10,976.88 on 2/4/16, following a hearing before Magisterial District Judge Robert Hawke.
At that hearing, Al Pierce the Solicitor suddenly became a witness. His associate, Scott Steier, tried the case. That way they could charge Nazareth double for their time.
Instead of just paying Herman, Nazareth appealed, and Herman had to file a complaint in county court.
Though Connie Nelson attached a copy of the contract and his own demand to her complaint, Pierce and Steier tried to get it bounced
As you probably guessed, they got bounced instead. A perplexed Judge Emil Giordano overruled their preliminary objections, noting that Herman has stated "a prima facia breach of contract claim."
But Pierce and Steier have been able to pad their bill a little more, even though they must know they have a loser.
"I want the taxpayers to know that they're just wasting money," Herman told me. 'The only ones making out here are the lawyers."
Chief Thomas Trachta and Officer Stephen Scheig have three active suits against Nazareth. A complaint filed by probationary officer Adam Shimer was dismissed, but he managed to get a job as a full-time police officer in Palmerton. Fred Lahovski and Connie McGinnis settled their lawsuits. Lahovski was paid $440,000, which is the largest sum I've seen awarded to police officer for a civil rights claim in the Lehigh Valley.
Herman just wants Nazareth to keep its word and pay him the $10,000 he is due.