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Antrim Township fires six upper-level township employees

Two supervisors appointed to run township 'in the interim'

Two supervisors appointed to run township 'in the interim'

August 22, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- The Antrim Township Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Thursday to use the recommendations in a shielded $29,750 management study to terminate six upper-level township employees and appoint new interim leadership.

The terminated employees included Manager Ben Thomas Jr. and Utilities Director Charles Goetz, and Supervisors Fred Young and Rick Baer were appointed to run the township "in the interim."

Board Chairman Curtis Myers made a motion to terminate Thomas, Goetz, Utilities Superintendent Larson Wenger, Roadmaster Paul Barnett, Assistant Roadmaster Robert Wible and Finance Secretary Eileen Strausner and "effective immediately," eliminate their positions from the township payroll.

"This will save you about $300,000 a year," Myers said to the public that packed the Municipal Building.

Supervisor James Byers was absent.

Goetz wrote in an e-mail to The Herald-Mail after the meeting that he and the others terminated are "still numb."

Goetz said the board mandated that "all" township employees attend a two-hour executive session hosted by the board at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

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"They let (consultant) Matt Dhillon explain his story and then basically asked for our resignation or else Curtis would make a motion at the 7 p.m. public meeting to terminate us," Goetz wrote.

He said the board never to his knowledge approached him about his performance or gave him a chance to change what he was doing to match their expected level of efficiency.

"No they had their decisions made prior to this 4 p.m. meeting," Goetz wrote in the e-mail.

"I and many of the employees who have been so badly mistreated are in a state of shock," said Ben Thomas Jr., dismissed after a dozen years as the township's administrator and then manager.

Thomas said he and the other fired employees got the word shortly before Thursday's meeting.

"We were informed at about 6:15 this evening, the seven of us," Thomas said. "It is my understanding that they called state police to escort us off the premises and private security."

Thomas said he had left the municipal building before police arrived.

Before the motion by Myers, the consultant who authored the management study presented his recommendations to the public.

Dhillon, of California-based Dhillon Management Services, recommended the elimination of eight positions. He also recommended that the board sell five road vehicles, stay in the current facility and take over the district magistrate's office in the building.

Dhillon suggested the board cut one administrative position, one road services position, two utilities positions, two maintenance and utilities supervisory positions, one zoning positions and one position that Solicitor John Lisko said he could not name in public.

None of the township's divisions were operating efficiently, Dhillon said.

"I define efficiency as working at the level which the work load dictates," he said.

Dhillon said his report did not recommend eliminating any specific positions or people, but he told the public that if the board takes his advice, it would not only save taxpayers $488,000 per year, but it would improve township "efficiency, effectiveness and turnaround."

"I will make this promise to you," he said of his recommendations, "services will improve in Antrim."

As for the study used as the basis for the firings, Thomas said, "We heard the complete study by Mr. Dhillon and we heavily challenged that study."

Reading a statement prepared before the 7 p.m. special meeting and signed by "The Antrim Township Board of Supervisors," Young said it was "never our intent to eliminate individual positions unless they were found to be unnecessary by this professional assessment."

Young, who said not one member of the board possessed the "qualifications" to evaluate the efficiency, effectiveness or necessity of Antrim staff, said he does have the know-how to do Thomas' job, at least in the interim.

Myers said the board plans to restructure Antrim government to change from a township manager form of government to a township administrator form.

Lisko said the only difference between the two forms is "semantics," or the word used to define the positions, and perhaps a few duties that the board has yet to define.

Goetz said he has not had time to process what happened to him on Thursday and has no idea what he will do now after eight years with the township.

In recent years, Antrim Township has been the fastest-growing municipality in Franklin County. Thomas said its staff has worked effectively to adapt to the pressures that growth has placed upon municipal services.

"We have been looked at as a highly respected, progressive proactive township with many municipalities that have consulted with us on a regular basis on how we do things," Thomas said.

"We have been busy doing our jobs, not justifying our jobs," he said. Thomas wondered how the community will react.

"They lost seven wonderful, dedicated employees for the community," he said.

- Staff writer Don Aines contributed to this report.

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