By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
SOUTH PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP —
For several years, a group of South Pymatuning Township citizens has pestered and badgered township officials, accusing them of what one agitant called “self-dealing” by supervisors.
They have confronted officials at public meetings with questions about their actions – or inactions, tried to rally public support for their position, and taken officials and policemen to court.
The last election changed the balance of power a bit with the election of Rose Lyons as a supervisor and her husband, Thomas, to the board of auditors.
But, the establishment hasn’t taken the change benignly and two officials have fought back against an action they see as settling an old score.
Supervisor Mark Presley and auditor Laurel Alexander have appealed the decision of the three-member board of auditors to cut Presley’s pay and benefits for township work.
Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas R. Dobson has set a hearing for March 25.
Presley, 2841 Anchorage Road, has worked for the township for 22 years, most recently as public works director and roadmaster, and was elected a supervisor in 2009.
The Second Class Township Code tasks the board of auditors with setting working supervisors’ pay and says that the pay shall be comparable to what is paid in the municipality for “similar services.”
According to the petition, that rate historically has been the same as that set by the supervisors for other township employees.
At the auditors’ Jan. 7 meeting, they elected former township supervisor Dennis Sump chairman, and Thomas Lyons took his seat on the board.
In setting Presley’s pay, “Lyons presented what he represented as research into what other townships pay their supervisors,” the petition says.
He proposed lowering Presley’s pay from $20.78 an hour to $17.02.
“Lyons’ proposal,” the petition says, “was a result of cherry-picking various other municipalities’ pay rates for working supervisors to achieve a result that would be substantially lower than the compensation previously earned by Presley, while ignoring the compensation rate paid to other South Pymatuning Township employees.”
Presley’s subordinate workers make more than $17.02 an hour and have less experience, the petition says.
Lyons also proposed “slashing (Presley’s) holidays in half, eliminating all personal days and reducing Presley to having only three sick days in 2014,” and eliminating his $300 clothing allowance, the petition says.
Sump voted with Lyons, while Alexander opposed.
The petition says Sump should have recused himself from the vote because he has a “long personal history” with Presley that prevented him from voting “impartially.”
Presley’s compensation was set “to settle political and/or personal scores between members of the board of auditors and Presley,” the petition says.
“What we’re trying to do is bring South Pymatuning in line with all the surrounding communities, what they do for their people as far as wages and things,” Sump said.
He specifically mentioned the pay and benefits for working supervisors in Pymatuning, Delaware, Jefferson and Shenango townships as comparisons, denied that the action was taken to settle any scores. “There’s no animosity anymore. You can’t live your life like that.”
He added that the board of auditors is now more representative of the township than it had been in the past, and he believes there is wide support for the board’s action.
“We have the whole community behind us,” he said.
The board will defend its position at the hearing next month, although it has yet to meet with an attorney, Sump said.
A message left with Lyons was not returned.
The township’s insurance company paid Thomas Lyons $8,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit he filed against a township policeman, Sgt. Richard Christoff, stemming from Lyons videotaping an encounter between Kurt D. Toth and patrolman Andreu Foriska in the parking lot of the township building June 12, 2012.
Toth was found not guilty of criminal charges related to his actions during the meeting and has a civil lawsuit pending against Foriska and the township.
Presley “was forced to retire earlier than he desired” because the lower wage would lower his pension payments, the petition says. His pension will be based on the average of his last three working years of pay.
Presley is asking a judge to set his pay rate at $21.40 an hour and restore his benefits.