Friday, April 21, 2017

Brown and Benol: What Happens in Vegas Should Stay in Vegas

Mat Benol hangs Ten Commandments behind
him before every meeting
On Monday, NorCo Controller Steve Barron suggested to Council that tighter internal controls might be needed for staff training and development. He pointed out that, in 2016, Human Resources spent $56,758.15 for training, nearly ten times the $5,749.35 spent the year before. He noted a "training" trip at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, and another trip by the same employee to New Orleans. He told Council that training costs this year are already close to $20,000, even though only $35,000 is budgeted. His report fails to get into various P-card purchases made by Trapp and others in the Human Resources Department, including an $800 popcorn machine and $1,000 spent at Target for gift cards in violation of county policy. That will be coming later, I can assure you, and may even be flagged by external auditors. Pointing to the practice in other jurisdictions, Barron suggests it might be appropriate for Council to approve trips more than 100 miles away from the county. Executive John Brown defended this spending at last night's Council meeting. Council member Mat Benol attacked Barron.

Brown claimed this spending was really an attempt to build the foundation of Human Resources by providing better training to managers and supervisors in other departments. "It is the number one thing we need to do," said Brown. He said he'll be increasing the amount of money the County spends for staff development and training. He argued that the County employees themselves recognized, in a recent survey, that they need more training when named to supervisory roles.

The problem with Brown's explanation is that the $56,758.15 spent by Human Resources in 2016 is more than the $30,000 budgeted. He spent most of 2016 running for state auditor general instead of the job that the people of Northampton County elected him to do, and over much of that year, no one was at the helm. When I go into Brown's own expense reports next week, you will see yourself that there was a leadership vacuum in 2016.

It's the kind of vacuum that would enable Trapp to raid the health and wellness fund for an $800 popcorn machine she keeps in her office. The smell alone should have given that away.

Brown also failed to explain why Human Resources Director Amy Trapp has already spent over $20,000 of the $35,000 set aside this year for training and staff development in her department.

Trapp herself was unavailable. She is recovering from an automobile accident earlier this week, and hopefully makes a complete recovery.

Brown told Council he would make her available to explain these expenditures. Council President John Cusick is a big proponent of a statewide county organization called CCAP (County Comm'r Ass'n of Pa) and has for years encouraged even his fellow Council members to participate. But CCAP meets at places like Mechanicsburg, not Las Vegas or New Orleans. "The optics of that don't look particularly good," he said. Brown still justified the trips because they were highly recommended by a third-party consultant.

Hayden Phillips said that the idea of conferences and conventions is diminishing. He thinks Council might consider, as Barron suggested, a greater role in approving outside travel.

Bob Werner also is concerned because CCAP ismore locally located. He added, "There are best Western hotels."

Brown was unable to say whether the county seeks discounted rates.

Mat Benol, however, is angry that Barron had dared to question these expenses. "This type of report is nothing more than a political football," he said, calling it an "inflammatory" report.
"This is another one of those knee-jerk things that our Controller has done to try to make the Executive look bad. I'm just getting tired of it. At the next meeting, I plan on taking some action on the Controller because the Controller is a financial position, it's not a political position. To me, it's a bean counter position. I understand that this is one of the areas that technically falls to that position, but if you're going to do an objective report, you talk to both sides. You don't just grab some things and make it inflammatory and throw it out there to get the headlines. I'm tired of it. And because I'm not running for re-election, I'm politically expendable. This is just me as a Councilperson getting tired of our Controller using that position as a political pulpit."
Under Northampton County's Home Rule Charter, the Controller is the person responsible for the internal control of the fiscal transactions of the county. This includes trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans. It includes department heads who exceed their spending budgets. It includes spending more money than permitted for meals. It includes the purchase of $800 popcorn machines and the abuse of the county purse to purchase gift cards that violate county credit card policy. As an independently elected official, the Controller has the power, at any time and on his own initiative, to review the fiscal transactions of any county agency without first seeking permission from John Brown or Mat Benol. That's what the Controller did, and that is his job. He has in the past found that the Executive himself was abusing his expense reports, and money had to be paid back to the County.

Now Barron is a Democrat who supports John Brown's opponent in the Executive race, Lamont McClure. Without question there are political overtones to what he is doing. But what he is doing is the job the people elected him to do. "If I really wanted to be political, I'd gather this information and just sit on it until September," said Barron. "I told Council about it now because I want to keep staff training and travel expenses in check.If I failed to disclose it now, Benol would be asking, 'Where's the Controller?'"

He's doing his job.

Benol is supposed to provide oversight of the executive branch as well. But he apparently thinks he's a cheerleader.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Barron is a phony and a time thief. I learned that from reading this blog. Please use the hilarious kilt photos you used to skewer him with. When he was critical of Stoffa, you killed him. I predict you'll be shilling for Fed Ed in no time at all.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Bernie!!! Keep up the good job! Did she get hurt riding her hover board.

Anonymous said...

@6:28 this shows what kind of people read the blog. Someone making a joke that the HR Director who was in an MVA that destroyed her car got hurt riding a hover board. Be a decent human being and not such an idiot douche bag...you should be ashamed of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Wait thats two accidents in something like six months? I guess the county's clean driving record to keep your job policy that she instated dosn't apply to her?

Anonymous said...

Does she drive a county vehicle? Were the accidents her fault? This lady just can't win.

Anonymous said...

She should be taking sick time not regular pay! Bernie, check into it, please. She will breaking another policy.

Anonymous said...

@6:39 am You obviously are not an NC employee. You obviously don't have to deal with her "Do as I say and not as I do" actions.

Obviously, I don't wish her nor any human or animal harm. There has been too much of that at NC, some created from her. Employees are tired of her mentality and actions against employees.

Anonymous said...

You mean employees bein held accountable? Oh my gosh what a novel concept?!?!

Anonymous said...

I'm not a republican or democrat, but a tax paying citizen of NC. It is about time someone looks into the wasteful spending in the county. This is something council should be doing, instead, idiots like Benol think nobody has the right to question it. Thank God he is not running for reelection because the partisan voters in the county would keep him in office. Even more, "Leroy" John Brown, an alleged fiscal conservative, tries to justify these pleasure junkets as needed. He is second to "Fed Ed" in the world of reality. This delusional con artist must be fired!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Phillips sits on boards of organizations funded by Northampton County annually out of the budget he helps approve that do the same sorts of things the HR department is doing with the trips and spending.

This issue is everywhere. It's not just an Amy Trapp problem. You have a lot of managers and directors enjoying junkets under the premise of "training".

While the trips look really bad, the gift card purchased with taxpayer money looks especially shady.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Does she drive a county vehicle? Were the accidents her fault? This lady just can't win." - Hey, most people would never wish for anything bad to happen to Amy Trapp. When I heard she was in an accident, my first concern was whether she is OK. There will always be some jerk who thinks that anonymity is a license for personal attacks. But most of the county employees that she or her husband derided are far nicer than I am and would hope she gets well.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" this shows what kind of people read the blog. Someone making a joke that the HR Director who was in an MVA that destroyed her car got hurt riding a hover board."

You are one of the persons who reads this blog. What kind are you?

Anonymous said...

Been-Hole good riddance to this grandstanding fool, now to vote the other 4 out of office is the goal.

Anonymous said...

@7:38- when will she be held accountable for her actions? From the "entitled spoiled brat employees" comment to the popcorn machine to the unnecessary remodeling costs ( speaking of which- why does she deserve new/used furniture as a new employee when 30 year employees are stuck into closets?) to the gift cards to the hover board to the unnecessary travel expenses for unnecessary training - the list grows every day and yet no apologies, no discipline, no facing the music. Even an entitled brat employee would be out on their ass by now. What sort of example is being set here? From what I can see, many departments in the county are understaffed, overworked, underpaid just trying to get by. This woman makes a mockery of those employees she is paid generously to represent.

Anonymous said...

Well said @ 5:16!! I couldn't have said it better. This Entitled Spoiled Brat Government Employee had to wait until I came home from work to comment but you beat me too it. I work in one of those unstaffed, underpaid, overworked offices that needs to work until 4:30 PM while the OVERPAID HR DIRECTOR either doesn't come in or leaves early. As for the comment about her being in a MVA, what about the other ESBGE that come to work in pain or hurt. What about that poor employee who was hit in the pedestrian crosswalk by the courthouse and they painted over! What about the other employees that were hurt in MVAs or other incidents. If they take off, they have to be scared they will be fired by her! WALK A MILE IN OUR SHOES BEFORE YOU COMMENT!

Anonymous said...

BOTTOMLINE, its trying to stay relevent with county funds before like allentowns criminally corrupt these fine thiefs will go away too! There will be a forensic accounting firm going in to do some account digging for these transiant transplants!

Anonymous said...

"You don't just grab some things and make it inflammatory and throw it out there..."

By "some things" he means FACTS and by "throw it out there" he means inform the taxpaying citizens. Benol's response is out of touch and a blatant attempt to take the spotlight off of this obvious abuse and put it on the controller. Even if Barron had "talk(ed) to both sides", nothing hr could have said would convince me that these expenses were justified. I mean, I have to but boxes of tissues for clients to use in my office because the county won't provide them and hr is providing popcorn machines?!

Anonymous said...

*buy

Anonymous said...

how about monthly updates on the budget and spending. should help control spending

Anonymous said...

Benol lost my vote!!!!

Anonymous said...

If you want to spend it, get it in the budget. If you want to add to the budget get council approval. No hiding spending. No holding off on payments.

Anonymous said...

The 21st 6:39am, did she have any blood work done after accidents to see if she had any alcohol or illegal substances in her system after both of these tragedys, because if she may have been impaired like a well known public sector employee this criminal act could be quashed on a local level too! This being all the suposid high standirt of work accomplished that involves creating a higher quality of life fictisiously faked living within the valley and fantasized about put to print by advertisments in the locals!

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a training budget line from which these funds were taken? The training line doesn't specify particular trainings, it's just a general chunk of money for training. And whether anyone likes it or not, a training in Vegas or Orlando or New Orleans is still training, therefore it WAS in the budget! You can't always preplan for specific training events because they may not be planned or released the year before. Hence the general training line item.

Anonymous said...

@7:49 was she on work time? Or was it outside of working hours? Only if she was working or in a county vehicle, would a blood test even be relevant. And if she was intoxicated or suspected of being intoxicated in either case, don't you think the authorities would've done something about that at the time of the accident or shortly thereafter?

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:30, tge money spent last year was well beyond what had been budgeted

Anonymous said...

As a Human Resources professional working in the public sector, I can tell you that any training provided at out of state at locations like Las Vegas, Orlando or New Orleans is a waste of money. The information disseminated at these conferences is very broad in nature and often is not applicable to HR operations in certain states like Pennsylvania. In other words, these conferences are merely junkets held at resorts for the enjoyment of the registered participants. The only truly beneficial and informational training for public sector employees is offered in state and not at vacation locales.











Anonymous said...

The Ten Commandment were the justification for the crucifixion of the messiah.

Those in charge got it wrong! Even when there were only ten laws.

So displaying them behind you is an appropriate reminder to the judges and to those in control of there own inequities, mans laws are numerous and complicated to the point of being a unique language.

The displaying of the ten commandments should be an indication to everyone how doomed justice is and how phony and incompetent those are that rule.


Anonymous said...

There is no way you are a Human Resources professional...nice try for a cover, though...people love to bash under the shroud of anonymity...

Bernie O'Hare said...

And aren't you anonymous?