Commissioners square off again
April 29, 2013
The Butler County Commissioners sparred again Wednesday with Commissioner Jim Eckstein alleging cover-ups and the others accusing him of lying. Commissioner Bill McCarrier, board chairman, said Eckstein was fabricating information. “The statements he made are unbelievably erroneous,” McCarrier said, becoming visibly upset. “They are lies, blatant lies!” Eckstein said he’s not the one who should be embarrassed. He accused McCarrier of being part of a cover-up during McCarrier’s first tenure as commissioner in the 1990s. According to Eckstein, McCarrier agreed to a settlement for a sexual harassment case involving a former county official. “He’s not embarrassed by it — he did it,” Eckstein said. “I would be ashamed.” McCarrier said he couldn’t comment on any investigation into such a claim that occurred during his first term. County Solicitor Mike English said there’s nothing unusual about a complaint being settled. Eckstein also bashed McCarrier and Commissioner Dale Pinkerton for pushing for a wrap-around loan to fund a new county office building. Under a financing proposal to pay for the project, the county would borrow money that would extend, but not increase, the amount of payments already being made on previous borrowing. Eckstein said a wrap-around loan would cost the county $5 million in interest in the first 12 years. “It’s unconscionable,” he said. Although the commissioners have hired the Butler division of the architectural firm Stantec to design a new office building, the commissioners have yet to approve the construction. The commissioners’ bickering Wednesday was only the latest example of contention among the board. McCarrier reiterated Eckstein has cost the county and Butler County Community College money due to the minority commissioner’s words and actions. The college paid several thousand dollars for a firm to verify whether McCarrier’s assistant, Kim Geyer, should be on the college board. Geyer remains on the BC3 board. McCarrier said the college wasted that money just to satisfy Eckstein. The chairman also pointed out the county had to pay for six hours of training as part of a settlement for a sexual discrimination complaint against Eckstein. Joyce Ainsworth, director of county Children and Youth Services, last year filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging mistreatment by Eckstein. The county settled the complaint before it went to court. Eckstein, who faces a second complaint filed internally by an employee the county has not identified, maintains he’s innocent of any discrimination. The county spent $1,000 on the training required under the Ainsworth settlement, and it will spend up to $5,000 on a Pittsburgh firm to investigate the internal complaint. McCarrier said Eckstein was incorrect in previously stating the county could have addressed such issues without spending the amount of money it did. Responding to previous comments by McCarrier, Eckstein said the extra money he receives by not accepting county health benefits is far less than what the county spends for insurance to cover McCarrier, Pinkerton and their spouses. Eckstein also refuted the claim that he has tainted the county’s reputation across the state. “We’re not a laughingstock,” he said. Eckstein said the county fares much better than places such as Pittsburgh with numerous problems involving the police department, and Luzerne County with a scandal involving kickbacks to judges. The 2008 scandal involved Luzerne County judges imposing harsher sentences on juvenile offenders so they would be placed in detention centers. Eckstein, who opposes spending too much money on a garage for the new office building, said his e-mail survey of what other counties do for parking embarrassed his colleagues. “It exposed their tax-and-spend ways,” he said about McCarrier and Pinkerton. Eckstein said officials from other counties treat him with respect. He admitted not seeking counsel from the more experienced Pinkerton and McCarrier, who each served a prior term in office. Eckstein said he gets the information he needs from the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and county Controller Jack McMillin. After Eckstein stressed there is no chaos in county government, McCarrier said there was more turmoil behind the scenes because people are frustrated by having to deal with Eckstein. Several residents who are critics of Eckstein chided him during public comment at the meeting. “These people want me to resign, and I’m not doing it,” Eckstein said.