By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Mercer County Commissioner Matt McConnell said he is “beyond frustrated” with fellow Commissioner Brian Beader who McConnell claims has been essentially absent from his job for the last nine months, other than “about a half-hour a month.”
Beader maintains that he is continuing to serve the county and is current on all decisions, although he admits it’s mostly done on nights, weekends and via e-mail.
McConnell, a Republican who is serving his first term as a county commissioner, made his comments at a work session Wednesday morning, when asked if he had any objections to tour groups visiting county offices.
“Well, it certainly won’t be a problem in Brian’s office. I am beyond pissed off about that,” he said.
Beader, a Democrat, was elected to a third, four-year term in November 2011, a position that pays $63,845 a year, plus another $23,000 in benefits that include health care, retirement, worker’s compensation and Social Security.
“My understanding,” said McConnell, “is that he is working as an electrician on a job in Pittsburgh and has been doing so for the last nine months.”
Beader said he freely acknowledges that he hasn’t been as available as “I ought to be or want to be” but expects that to be a temporary situation. He insists he is absolutely current on county management decisions.
“Yes, I took a job in Pittsburgh, which I’ve announced publicly. I keep my colleagues informed of my schedule, I check my e-mail multiple times a day and go into the office on evenings and weekends to catch up on paperwork. My desk is empty. I am fully up to speed,” he said.
“I’ve done this job for almost 10 years now, putting in 50-hour work weeks. I am nowhere near that now, I know. But if I am holding something up, I’d like to know what it is,” he said.
Beader said the construction job is winding down and he hopes to be back to his same routine soon. “Or the company could hire me full-time and I could have to travel. And that could be anywhere across the country. But that offer has not been made to me yet. If that happens, then obviously I would have a decision to make.”
McConnell said that legally a commissioner isn’t required to show up any day other than the day he takes office, but in his opinion, Beader’s absence is tantamount to stealing. “I think you have some obligation to fulfill the duties expected of you. You have an obligation to share the load and to be at the various meetings and learn the background before you come in and just cast a vote,” he said.
Beader’s second job as an electrician was initially something McConnell said he respected. “I knew that he was rolling out on a job for a week, maybe two, and I knew some folks in the public were upset with that. But, hey, he made the time to get into the office and make all the meetings. I gave him credit that he was out there working, burning the candle at both ends, but this is just ridiculous,” he said.
McConnell said he thinks it’s important that elected officials be available to the public, as well as to their colleagues, so that discussion can take place. “I have no problem if the vote doesn’t go my way, like the Kohl’s vote, but at least there was the discussion. Now, everything basically comes down to two of us,” he said, referring to Republican colleague and board chairman John Lechner.
McConnell, 46, of Hermitage, also said he was upset about a recent letter to the editor in The Herald, accusing him of “covering up” for Beader by attending meetings in his absence.
“I’m not covering anything up. I’m having to fill in where he took off. Both John and I are taking up the slack,” he said. “And we’re doing that because agencies like the Behavioral Health Commission deserve to have a representative. Brian is still the Children and Youth Services liaison and there’s a lot going on there that he’s missing,” McConnell said.
Beader said his role as a liaison to various county agencies is nothing more than an agreement between commissioners to divide up the workload. “Being a liaison means being a mouthpiece to bring an issue to the full board. Two members who are in attendance can do anything that needs done, within the appropriate guidelines,” he said.
Recently the Northwest Commission, a local development district serving an eight-county region of northwest Pennsylvania, met at Avalon Golf and Country Club at Buhl Park in Hermitage and the county had no representative there because Beader was absent, McConnell said.
“That’s about economic development. Pretty important to be represented,” he said.
Beader said economic development was a platform for him in all of his campaigns and it continues to be. “I have to stick around to make sure the development at the gravel pit continues. We just got the first royalty check from the oil and gas lease there, and I’m strongly confident that growth there will pay back what we spent for the property. That was my goal in re-election and it’s still my goal,” he said.
McConnell said he and Lechner have both “been beaten up by constituents” for more or less shrugging their shoulders at Beader’s absence, but said he cannot stay silent any longer, because he feels the voters aren’t being fairly represented.
“We’ve had a lot of budget negotiations going on. We’re always trying to make sure every dollar spent is in the best interest of the taxpayers. How do you respond when we’re telling employees to always do more with less and they come back at you with, ‘Well, Beader’s not even here and he’s making a lot more than us.’ ”
“It’s showing in my voice how frustrated I am. This is a very good-paying job and I don’t believe in stealing. The taxpayers are being taken advantage of,” McConnell said.
“It’s pretty troubling to me that he’s not showing up for work for nine months now,” he added. “I don’t have a personal issue with Brian. It’s just that there is no way to keep up with everything remotely.”
Beader said he will be in the courthouse tonight and constituents can reach him at email@example.com
McConnell conceded however, that there isn’t much that can be done. “We don’t have recall elections in Pennsylvania. He hasn’t committed infamous crimes to have him removed.”
Beader, 43, of Hermitage, was arrested in July for drunken driving and was sentenced to accelerated rehabilitative disposition, ARD, and lost his driving privileges for six months. He said after his sentencing that he didn’t plan to miss any meetings, despite not being allowed to drive.
After his arrest in July, Beader apologized to his family, colleagues and voters, saying, “I am sorry for my actions and will work to regain that trust.”
His term expires at the end of 2015.