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Report used to fire Antrim Township employees released

September 11, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Seventy-two pages of documents used as rationale to fire six employees in Antrim Township, Pa., on Aug. 21 became public documents Wednesday.

The township released a Dhillon Management Services staffing study to The Herald-Mail through an Aug. 14 request made under Pennsylvania's Right to Know Act.

Portions of the report were redacted as not being public record because, according to the township's right-to-know officer, they could affect a person's reputation or disclose parts of an investigation. Also, she stated in a letter that portions were part of a "deliberative process" and not part of the supervisors' decision.

Matt Dhillon argued in his findings that the supervisors could create $517,000 in annual savings by following his recommendations.

"This report's content, style and approach are likely something the township and staff have not previously encountered. It is difficult, and sometimes painful, to be put 'under-the-light' to such a degree," he wrote.

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The four supervisors in attendance at the Aug. 21 meeting -- Curtis Myers, Fred Young, Rick Baer and Samuel Miller -- unanimously terminated Township Manager Ben Thomas, Utilities Director Charles Goetz and four others. Young and Baer were temporarily appointed to Thomas's and Goetz's positions, respectively.

The township chose to exercise its right under state law to take 30 days to redact the document before releasing it to the public.

Little appears to have been redacted beyond comments applying to the township manager position. Dhillon addresses several departments and makes recommendations about staffing and job duties in them, but in the two-page section dedicated to the township manager, it appears that half of one page has been omitted. A portion of his recommendation for the future of the township manager position also has been removed.

Remaining in Dhillon's findings regarding the manager was that Thomas, who had been a municipal employee for 12 years, failed to cross-train duties associated with the finance secretary's position when directed by the supervisors. He was criticized for "not appear(ing) to embrace opportunities to share responsibilities among positions."

"Clearly, township operations are not so complex and diverse that the township manager is inundated with activities, responsibilities, and the like," Dhillon wrote, with the only released justification for the statement being that the manager was "often away at seminars, conferences, meetings, etc."

The sole revealed recommendation regarding the manager was that "the Board of Supervisors should consider what skills, background and experiences it desires from the Township Manager, including consideration of a Manager with dual functions and expertise."

Young said that Thomas Rees, an attorney specially contracted for this matter, redacted the released version of the document.

"What we were looking for and I think we received was an objective and accurate look at Antrim Township. ... It certainly uncovered flaws within Antrim Township," Young said.

Much of Dhillon's findings make comparisons to Guilford Township outside of Chambersburg, Pa. For instance, he writes that Guilford Township processed land use permit applications in an average of five minutes compared to the 45 minutes to one hour estimated in Antrim Township by the consultant.

While Dhillon made projections five or 10 years from now, Young acknowledged that the economy and rate of growth could prompt changes to staffing.

"I think too often in government we become complacent with our staffing levels and don't change those as needed," he said.

Thomas said Wednesday night that he has not read the report and declined to comment until he did read it.

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