Law firm will probe Eckstein complaint
January 14, 2013
A Pittsburgh law firm will investigate a sexual discrimination complaint against Butler County Commissioner Jim Eckstein. The commissioners on Wednesday hired the firm Thomas, Thomas & Hafer to do the investigation for $185 an hour with the total to not exceed $5,000. County solicitor Mike English said he couldn’t handle the investigation because there would be a conflict of interest. English said the county could potentially be sued by either Eckstein or the employee filing the complaint if there would be dissatisfaction with the findings. “It would be inappropriate and unfair,” English said. He said the county is legally obligated to do an investigation once such a complaint is filed with the personnel department as was done in this case. English said the firm doesn’t expect to reach the $5,000 cap. Commissioners Bill McCarrier and Dale Pinkerton voted to hire the firm while Eckstein abstained. Eckstein said he’s willing to let English do it to save the county money. “I want to control costs,” Eckstein said. He stressed his opposition to hiring the firm doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be an investigation. “I’m not against any investigation,” Eckstein said. “I would cooperate fully with any investigation.” Eckstein also claimed his due process is being denied, but English stressed Eckstein’s side would be take into account. Several sources said that the employee who filed the complaint is chief clerk Amy Wilson, but county officials, including Wilson, would not confirm those reports. Although Eckstein wouldn’t specify the person’s gender, he did stress he worked well with the women in county offices. Eckstein said the complaint wasn’t valid. “I think these are political shenanigans,” he said. County officials won’t release details of the complaint, but the employee is not seeking any specific settlement. Eckstein reiterated the complaint stems from a debate he had with the employee following a county prison board meeting. He said if the discussion was out of hand, Sheriff Mike Slupe wouldn’t have left the room and prison Warden Rick Shaffer wouldn’t have been drinking coffee at the time. Shaffer said in an interview that Eckstein was animated, so he remained in the room as a precautionary measure. “We were concerned,” Shaffer said. Slupe said in an interview that he left the room before the discussion was over because he knew the warden was there. Shaffer did not say Eckstein is dangerous, but described him as “passionate.” Shaffer and Slupe said they don’t know how the discussion relates to the complaint, which they have not seen. While discussing the complaint and the topic discussed after the prison board meeting, which was the handling of inmates’ mail, Graham and English tried multiple times on Wednesday to get Eckstein to stop talking about those issues. At one point, McCarrier used the chairman’s gavel to interrupt Eckstein. “I’m ruling you out of order,” McCarrier said. Eckstein continued to debate what he could say during a meeting. County officials conceded there are limitations on what could be done to an elected official such as Eckstein even if the investigation finds he’s guilty of discrimination. “It’s going to depend on what the recommendations are,” English said. Eckstein accused McCarrier and Pinkerton of handpicking the Pittsburgh firm. Both denied knowing anyone at Thomas, Thomas & Shafer. Eckstein compared this investigation to the Watergate scandal. “Did Richard Nixon pick his own counsel (investigator)?” he asked. English insisted hiring an independent firm would protect Eckstein’s interests as much as anyone else’s.