Bethlehem Press

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Northampton County: Council rejects Stoffa's veto

Thursday, November 14, 2013 by CAROL SMITH Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Northampton County employees will now be prohibited from serving on boards or commissions that do business with or provide paid services to the county for a period of one year following the employee's termination with the county. The law goes into effect in spite of County Executive John Stoffa's veto and opposition from concerned citizens and three council members.

By a 6-3 vote at council's Nov. 7 meeting, Councilman Lamont McClure won support for a change to the county's employment prohibitions' code that eliminates any possibility of a conflict of interest. The law already states that businesses or organizations paid for their services will be found in breach of their contract if they hire an employee sooner than a year after his termination. "It's in every county contract [with vendors]," said council solicitor Phil Lauer. Apparently, there were recent situations where the law was ignored by the administration.

This new law now addresses the employee and drives the point home by making it clear that he cannot take a job with a vendor for a period of one year.

Opposing the law as having a negative impact on the many employees who now serve on boards and commissions were council members Bruce Gilbert, Peg Ferraro and Barb Thierry.

Gilbert said, "It creates problems with our commissions and the way our government is run." While Gilbert supported action that diminishes any hint of impropriety on the part of a county employee, he saw this law as creating more problems than it solved.

Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, was concerned about removing county employees now serving on CACLV's board. CACLV has a county contract to provide services such as Second Harvest Food Bank.

"It's the responsibility of a nonprofit to make sure every dollar is well-spent. The county is not served well without representatives who can watch carefully and serve well," Jennings said of the county employees on CACLV's board of directors. Their knowledge and expertise protect the interests of the county's taxpayers.

The dissenters were not able, however, to persuade those council members who wanted to make sure that county employees were being held to a non-compete clause in their future employment opportunities.

"It's just one year," said Councilman Ken Kraft. In business, non-compete clauses prevent employees from gaining an advantage by using information about their former employer to benefit a new employer. This information includes trade secrets, client lists or business practices.

In other business, both County Executive John Stoffa and Council President John Cusick extended an invitation to the new executive and the four new council members to become involved in the governmental process. Stoffa said there is an office that the new executive can use in the transition period, and Cusick said there is a County Commisioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) all-day conference in Harrisburg this month that new members may attend with their expenses paid.

With Republican John Brown as the new chief administrator and four new Republicans and one incumbent Republican filling the at-large county council seats, Northampton County's executive and legislative branches will definitely see a Republican majority in January. Incumbent Peg Ferraro was the top vote-getter on the ticket. Other Republicans who will be sworn in come Jan. 6 are Glenn Geissinger, Seth Vaughn, Hayden Phillips and Mat Benol.

Council's next regular meeting is at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 21 at Northampton County Courthouse's third floor, 669 Washington St., Easton.