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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, May 05, 2017

In Defense of Trips to Las Vegas

Last month, Controller Steve Barron submitted a troubling memo to Northampton County Council, suggesting that stronger internal controls are needed over the amount of money spent on travel and related expenses. What bothered him were trips to New Orleans and Las Vegas by Human Resources staffers, as well as a staggering jump in training for Human Resources (HR), where spending increased from $5,749.35 in 2015 to $56,758.15 in 2016. He never even got into HR Director Amy Trapp's decision to blow $800 on a popcorn machine, or thousands of dollars spent on Target gift cards with no accountability. At a Council meeting later that week, Mat Benol dismissed Barron's report as "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." Amy Trapp herself was unavailable, but was at last night's meeting to explain why all this spending was so necessary. Though Barron never criticized the money spent on training by Corrections Director Dan Keen, he was called forth to explain how the training at the jail saves lives. And Benol renewed his attacks on Barron. Instead of responding to the message, he attacked the messenger. He wants to defund the Controller.

Trapp justified the conferences in Las Vegas and New Orleans. She indicated the trip to Las Vegas was to learn how to use a software system, and that is the only place where the training is done.

Her justification for the New Orleans trip for workers compensation was that it had been recommended by the third party administrator and saved the County money. She noted that the County spent $1.4 million on workers compensation claims in 2015, but only $595,000 in 2016. She implied that the County saved all this money on workers compensation because of that New Orleans trip.

That is a flawed argument because the New Orleans trip was in the end of 2016, between November 29 and December 2. That trip could have only affected workers compensation matters after December 2.

She also claimed that the money spent on training reduced turnover by about five per cent. Turnover may have been reduced in 2016 over 2015, but no evidence linked reduced turnover with the increased training.Moreover, she herself indicated that the county's turnover rate last year was 15% and that the average in the public sector is 10-12%.

It's unclear whether anyone aside from Benol or Seth Vaughn was persuaded by her spiel.

Matt Dietz asked her whether she shopped around for the best hotel rates. Trapp attempted to justify paying more at the Mirage Hotel. Dietz stated that his job requires him to travel and his company shops for the best rates. He noted that there are workers comp classes in Pennsylvania.

Bob Werner pointed out that Trapp is in charge of the policies for travel and meals. She admitted she scheduled the trip. He pointed that the policy requires government employees who travel o get discounted and low rates. Then Trapp said that someone else scheduled the trip "This was absolutely in your area of expertise," Werner told her. "I don't think this was done as well as it could have been done." He also noted that Trapp is using savings in 2016 to justify a trip at the end of 2016.

"There are questions here that should have been reviewed before the trip," he said.

Seth Vaughn then said he was encouraged by Trapp for "seizing these opportunities." He believed that a trip to New Orleans at the end of 2016 saved the county $1 million in 2016. Even though it didn't.

"This is nothing more than a political hit piece," said Mat Benol, "and I'm going to address the gorilla in the room." He called Barron's report "false news."

After Trapp was done, Brown then decided to call Corrections Director Dan Keen to justify his training expenditures, even though Barron had no complaints about the amount of money his department spent on training. Keen, who was away from his job at least 39 times over the past two years, spoke about the importance of training, though what he did has nothing to do with New Orleans or Las Vegas.

"God forbid, look what happened in Delaware," he said, though I had no idea what he was talking about.

Then he started talking about active shooters in prison lobbies, and I suppose that's a justification for trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans.

After they were done, Benol said he wants to do something to Barron because he has a history of violating the Home Rule Charter and Administrative Code. Then he slammed Barron for getting $22,100 from DA John Morganelli when he ran for Attorney General. He noted that Barron failed to report this on his ethics report. "He's nothing more than a corrupt officer," said Benol. "The optics of this stinks."

He went on to say that Barron's salary be defunded.

He seemed to think that money was going into Barron's pocket, but this accusation is false. As Benol might say, false news. Barron owns an autodialer, and Morganelli gave him money so he could purchase time on it for calls made by Morganelli. None of that money went into Barron's pocket.

Instead of paying attention to the message, the Brown administration went after the Controller. He was called "corrupt" for pointing out that Human Relations is blowing taxpayer money like drunken sailors.

The whole point of bringing this situation to Council now, instead of September, was to keep it from becoming political. But it will be political now. I am sure voters will have a different view of Barron's memo than the one offered by Benol.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are Vaughn and Benol in the same universe as others? Do they understand the concept of time and space?

What a bunch of maroons on county council. They should be purged on election day. Vote people not party!

Anonymous said...

"None of that money went into Barron's pocket."

All money is green and spends the same way. This is a ridiculous defense attorney-type statement. Both parties stink. Stop defending one over the other. Our government holds taxpayers in contempt. It doesn't matter what party the elected or appointed crook is from.

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Werner!! You are the only one that sees exactly what it was. Please run for County Executive

Anonymous said...

6:29 the only one?

Anonymous said...

Yeah I think everyone pretty much sees this for what it is... thankfully Bob Werner was in position to speak up. I love the fear tactic of bringing Keen up saying people will die without training. Yep if Amy's deputy did not go to Vegas and New Orleans to get that training the prison would have had to be on lock down, Gracedale would have to be sold because workers would be claiming workers' comp left and right and we would have to raise taxes again. So Vegas and New Orleans is justified. So there!

Now there is this bridge...

Anonymous said...

The party coup is exactly that just the party favor consesionair competitors, one team steels and than its the other teams turn? This kind of ill is not just a modern social ill it has been the norm for many years because its become a two circus carnival way of life for political parasites and there panderers! The nue day and age systems is made up of many of these grant grab get to give back specialists that add to this allready human war crimes against Americas humanity and the valuable resorces needed for simple daily life thrown into the mix of thefts to forensicly disect the twists and turns of public funds dispersed with the supposid trickle down system design.

Anonymous said...

Typical political zealots, Benol and Vaughn, and to try and justify this horrific use of taxpayer's money is a tragedy. I think these idiots should be defunded and investigated by an individual prosecutor who has no "skin" in the game. They show the contempt they have for the the taxpayers in Northampton County and should be removed from office for malfeasance. I would love to see individual interrogations of each of these clowns without a prepared script.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"All money is green and spends the same way. This is a ridiculous defense attorney-type statement."

What on earth are you talking about? None of that money went into Barron's pocket. It simply was NOT income to him. Benol's assertion that it was is false and a political attack made against a controller who did his job. It went directly to buy time on the autodialer eh uses. I have been aware of this for some time, and asked Barron and Morganelli about it.

Anonymous said...

Kill the messenger!

Charlie Sch said...

The reference to Delaware was to a riot in a state prison several months ago, that resulted in the death of a prison guard. It is the exactly the type of incident that benefits from training in advance.

Bernie O'Hare said...

And at no time did Barron ever criticize training at corrections. That red herring was brought in to justify Amy Trapp's nonsense elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait until next meeting when Benol introduces his "Legislation to stop the menace"

Anonymous said...

How about legislation to prohibit hover board use by county employees on county property. Hoverboards are dangerous. I hope our next HR Director has more sense.

Anonymous said...

"Her justification for the New Orleans trip for workers compensation was that it had been recommended by the third party administrator and saved the County money. She noted that the County spent $1.4 million on workers compensation claims in 2015, but only $595,000 in 2016. She implied that the County saved all this money on workers compensation because of that New Orleans trip." Total BS! The county was already saving money in workers comp claims under the Stoffa administration. The TPA at the time was PMA. They brought substantial savings to the county, but were kicked to the curb in favor of another TPA who probably is providing quid pro quo payoffs to Brown's cronies. 65% of workers comp claims were and are at Gracedale. Premier started reeling in fraud and abuses, while emphasizing safe nursing practices, after they were hired. All of the improvements in the county's workers comp program required NO expensive junkets to New Orleans. If the county's TPA "recommended" this trip they did so to reward their cronies in the HR department with a free trip, at taxpayers expense, to a very desirable tourist destination.

Anonymous said...

I guess I just don't get it. What does training the prison director have to do with training the staff that take care of the prisoners? If training is needed it is for them, not him. Same for the Vegas trip, total BS! May 16th is around the corner. GET OUT AND VOTE THESE BUMS OUT!

Anonymous said...

Workers Compensation is a risk sensitive form of insurance, especially at the million dollar level.
First, Risk Managers can offer many alternative financial schemes all of which will demonstrate one basic fact: if you reduce your losses, you will pay less over time. Second, the reduction in costs is not immediate - it takes 2, 3 or 4 years to come to a more stable cost. Third, you don't have to go to Las Vegas for that information. There are seminars, sales presentations, and advisors right here in the Lehigh Valley and greater Philadelphia area. This is pure junket stuff and theft from us taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Benol is the one who is being political. Simply put he's talking out of his bias ass. Mr. Barron was simply doing his job and relaying the facts that training costs had increased at a rapid pace. If he had not Council would have accused him of not doing his job. Mr. Benol needs to get back on the subject of representing the people of this county and the people of his party. In fact, most of county council needs to do this. Since when did party needs take over the needs of taxpayers. I can't wait for election season to cast my vote. Others should do the same.

Anonymous said...

-This would all mean something if people cared. The problem is they are programed to vote for their party. Even though the republican county council is a Brown rubber stamp and gave the taxpayers a 10% tax increase, republicans will push their buttons on election day. They have been conditioned by their media outlets to follow the leader and blindly vote the party line.

Vaughn was right when he said, "I'll get re-elected anyway.". Sad but true.

Anonymous said...

People need to go to council meetings or watch them streamed live on their computers. Don't take the blatant lies on this blog as fact. Not everybody is an unethical criminal with severe mental issues like author of this blog.

Bernie O'Hare said...

But you are

Anonymous said...

Bernie succeeds where the academic low barrier entry media fails. It's that simple.

Keep up the good work Bernie.

Anonymous said...

Is there a designated survivor in NorCo?

Anonymous said...

Northampton County Council is a joke. It is filled with ego's their ability can't cash. It needs to go, a dysfunctional family.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if Amy's Deputy Director actually had any HR experience he would not need all of this training.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, 5:59's comment about not being unethical criminal is more like a statement as to Most can be bought and sold to vote yea or nay?

Anonymous said...

These out of state junkets were a total taxpayer ripoff. More of Amy Von Trapp's arrogant belief that the county is "lucky" to have her. And Brown could care less. He is just as arrogant believing that the county is his private business, and that he can reward his cronies at taxpayers expense. Let's hope Norco voters throw these frauds out in November.