By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Embattled Mercer County Commissioner Brian Beader on Thursday again defended his absence from the courthouse while working a second job out of town by listing all that he’s accomplished in years past, and saying it’s harder to highlight his achievements now, because the board’s methods have changed since Commissioner Matt McConnell came aboard two years ago.
“Perception is reality. I get that. I get that when you’re elected to public office you live in a fishbowl. Yes, I took a job in Pittsburgh which I openly admitted. In fact, I think all individuals elected to public office should hold a job in the private sector. And it’s true this job is consuming more of my time than I’d like. I know that I haven’t been here as much as I’d like, but I’m checking my e-mail multiple times a day and I don’t believe anyone is waiting on me to get things done,” Beader said at the end of the commissioners meeting.
He went on to say he was proud of the things he and former commissioners accomplished in his 10 years on the job, including having new energy-efficient doors and windows installed in the courthouse, obtaining grants to replace outdated light fixtures, making money on real estate leases such as the bank across the street, and the receipt of some $473,000 in oil and gas lease payments, while also providing quality services to residents and keeping expenses low.
“And this board is reaping the benefits of those decisions,” he said.
“But when I’m asked, ‘What have you done lately?’ well, that’s harder for me to answer. We used to have meetings in the evening. Since we got a new commissioner, we don’t do that. We used to take our meeting out to the schools, to try and give the students a civics lesson at the same time. But since we got a new commissioner, we no longer do that either,” he said.
Beader works as a union electrician on a construction job which he says is “winding down.”
His remarks came in the wake of last week’s comments by McConnell, who expressed his frustration with Beader’s absence from work sessions and other meetings where Beader is to be the liaison between county agencies and the board. McConnell said he and Commissioner Chairman John Lechner have stepped up to fill in for Beader, but McConnell said he thought Beader should feel more of an obligation to be at work during the day, given the salary he is making.
All three commissioners are paid $63,845 year, plus another $23,000 in benefits, including health care, retirement packages, Social Security and workers compensation.
Beader said Thursday the bulk of the work is done by the staff at the courthouse, not the commissioners.
“We end up taking the credit, is what happens,” he said, mentioning specifically a recent grant obtained by staff in the juvenile probation department.
Beader said last week he wasn’t sure what the future would hold regarding his job as an electrician. The company may lay him off within a few weeks and then he will be able to return to his duties as commissioner full time or, he said, they may offer him a job that requires him to travel, possibly cross-country.
“And if that offer were to be made to me, then I would have a decision to make,” he said.
McConnell had no comment on Beader’s statements, other than to say, “I didn’t know I had that much power. Decisions are made by the entire board. I don’t understand his accusations and I will not comment.”
Board Chairman John Lechner said he thinks the situation between McConnell and Beader is affecting the working relationship of the board members, but is not impacting the work of the board.
“Everything is current. There is no negative impact to the work we’re getting done,” he said.
Lechner also said Beader’s absence has meant that he and McConnell have had to attend more community board meetings, particularly in the evenings, but he considers that a part of his job to “step up and do what is necessary.”
“We’d still have to do that if, say, someone was sick, which is not the case at all here, but it’s the same situation,” he said.