Fired Antrim Twp. workers dispute report used to oust them

September 16, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Five of the six former Antrim Township, Pa., employees dismissed from their jobs Aug. 21 held a press conference Monday and issued a 19-page document addressing discrepancies they feel exist in the staffing study used as cause for their termination.

Among them are that Matt Dhillon mixed up two secretaries, overstated the amount of time the township manager spent at conferences and wrongly assessed the duties of several employees. Former township manager Ben Thomas Jr. said Dhillon only provided about 20 pages of analysis in his report once the figures and charts provided to him are taken out.

"For $30,000, we think that's rather poor," Thomas said of the study, for which the township paid $29,750.

The former township employees at the press conference would not address their current employment status or say whether they plan legal action. Rather, the five -- Thomas, former Utilities Director Charles Goetz, former Utilities Superintendent Larson Wenger, former Roadmaster Paul Barnett and former Finance Secretary Eileen Strausner -- said they wanted to correct inaccuracies they perceive in the staffing study done by California-based consultant Dhillon Management Services.


Assistant Roadmaster Bob Wible, who also was terminated, did not attend the press conference, but his former colleagues said they had his support and contributions to their document.

Dhillon is described on his Web site as "a detail-oriented anlayst (sic) who firmly beleives (sic) that findings and recommendations need to be based on a thorough analysis of workloads and service levels." He wrote at the beginning of his report that the content, style and approach could be painfully revealing.

The consultant said his findings regarding staffing and vehicles inventory could save the Antrim Township Supervisors $517,000 a year.

Although used as justification to fire the employees at a meeting Aug. 21, the supervisors only released the report to the public last Wednesday after taking time granted to them under state law to redact (edit) the 72 pages. The employees received notification approximately 2 1/2 hours before the evening meeting that they would lose their jobs.

"What a way to treat such professional people," said Thomas, who had worked for the township 12 years.

Thomas and Goetz said they had not read the report before being fired, but portions of it were presented orally that evening. They said they tried to dispute some of the facts contained within it.

"Once we were critical of the report, the chairman (of the supervisors) cut us off every time," Goetz said.

While portions of the study pertaining to Thomas have been redacted, the revealed reasons are that he did not cross-train employees and he spent "a significant amount of time" at seminars, conferences and meetings.

Also, the consultant recommended a position in which the employee would act in a dual role such as township manager/engineer. Dhillon wrote that "this is an approach common in other nearby municipalities."

Thomas, who had been making approximately $72,000 annually, said he spent 2 1/2 working days at a conference in 2008 and a total of 4 1/2 days at two conferences in 2007. Both trips were approved by the supervisors.

He also said he knows of no other community with a manager serving a dual role like that described by Dhillon.

The former employees criticized aspects of the study dealing with snow removal, sharing services with other municipalities and technology, saying those were often done better than other communities. They claim that Dhillon did not take notes when he was at the township and refused their offers of additional information on topics.

"There's so much misinformation, inaccuracies and lack of information. ... It is tunnel vision," Thomas said.

The former township manager said he was most frustrated by the secrecy he feels was demonstrated by the supervisors in the method used to carry out the meetings. He described it as par for the course with the supervisors.

"The employee morale, especially those working with the elected officials, I don't know that it could've gotten lower," Thomas said.

Supervisors Curtis Myers, Fred Young, Rick Baer and James Byers did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Monday night. A woman who answered at Supervisor Samuel Miller's house said he was out of town.

Byers was absent from the meeting in which the positions were eliminated. The other four voted unanimously to get rid of the positions. Later, Young and Baer were appointed to fill the township manager and utilities director positions, respectively, for an interim period.

Read the staffing report online at Antrim Report

Editor's note: This is the unedited response from six former Antrim Township employees, who were dismissed on the recommendation of a study completed by Dhillon Management Services of California.

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