|Corruption Incorporated: Changing Fayette's Image
One Pink Power Suit And Small Step At A Time
While some of us love Fayette County, PA so much that we stayed put to raise our families, live, work and pay taxes here, we understood why our many high school and college classmates high-tailed it away and rarely looked back.
Census reports show that we really cannot afford to lose any more of our young to greener pastures elsewhere. We know that we will, though.
County and government leaders fail its citizens too often in between the occasional positive accomplishment we see. Some can talk, quite eloquently, out of both sides of their mouths, depending on the time, day and number of additional votes that are needed to win the next election.
Sometimes, when they finally have a golden opportunity to right a horrendous wrong, they just blindly look the other way because there might be too many toes to step on, lacking what it takes to be leaders in actual charge. That's a major factor in why nothing really changes here in Fayette County.
So many tax dollars are spent and misspent on trying to spiff up the county's image, but has it really been worth it? Are we referred to less often as Fayette Nam, or do we see a long list of non gas well digging companies moving here? No.
Expensive suits walk in and out of one downtown building all the time, busy on earpiece phones, comprising the movers and shakers piece. Spend a few years coming and going on the same elevators and it's hard not to want to push the stop button just once, long enough to ask for some of our tax money back or a more convincing promise that we're actually investing in a more promising future. But we look the other way, too, and just let ourselves continue to be robbed.
Overnight, we're not going to lose Fayette's pitiful showing on studies that ranks us among the state's poorest counties, with shamefully high child abuse and documented cases of incest, drug addiction and alcoholism. Overnight, Fayette County won't lose its shameful mention on prosecutorial and judicial misconduct lists. Nor will we overnight solve the major problems or lose the infamous reputation of being run by corruption incorporated, controlling leaders as though they're mere marionettes on a string or letting some run amok and play by their own wrong rules.
But there are a few issues which county leaders can solve quickly, provided that they show strength and force their heads not to look the other way.
One of the last formal things that Fred Lebder, former, long-time county commissioner, did at his very last meeting in office was to appoint one particular county department head. At the time, she had been an acting CEO for some time. She bent this ear one afternoon in 1995, during our smoke break outside the mental health clinic, during her time in limbo, to express disappointment that open interviews were being held for a job that she thought, automatically, should have been hers.
This was no small little department that she headed as an interim CEO. She was probably the best person for the job, but she doubted that Lebder would name an unmarried woman to the position. To these ears, that expressed fear seemed unfair, sexist and so stupid on his part. Not long thereafter, she was formally bumped up in status to permanent CEO, and she and her pink power suit seemed to continue doing a good job managing her office's $40M annual budget.
As time passed, the only problem was that she allowed some of her staff to get too close to her and became ineffective as a department head when she allowed a few to overstay their time because of their personal, sometimes dysfunctional relationships. Some she refused to reprimand even when they really needed it. Even when one and she viciously clashed in front of a large unit of staff on more than one occasion, and once even in front of the entire 80-some person agency, she backed down. Nobody had to wonder why.
Several others fed up with the stressful work environment leaving their jobs were pulled aside on the way out the door and promised that she would "weed out the evil'' if they stayed. Just give her time.
But they kept walking and left because they knew that that tomorrow would never come, or that it would not come soon enough.
It has been over five years since the Fayette County Board of Commissioners and the county human resource director were informed -- i.e., through formal employee county grievances, formal complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and meetings with the staff as well -- that some of those in charge in that office drank alcohol on the job and held staff trainings in bars on paid work time.
It has been over one month since two of the same commissioners and one new commissioner learned that the same department took a day off to picnic and drink on paid work time. By accounts of several employees who said they were ordered to attend, not even one minute of the Shady Grove picnic on August 19 was used for staff training this time.
At this time, it is still unknown whether the Department of Public Welfare will seek reimbursement from the county for the money spent to pay those 85 staff for the day or whether it will seek reimbursement for all the past days off for on the clock parties and gatherings, where no training was held and alcohol was used.
While Fayette County Commission Chairman Vincent Zapotosky was not in office when the past grievances and EEOC cases reported alcohol usage in the county mental health office on work time, he has known about alcohol being used during work time, more currently, at least for one month. County Commissioner Vincent Vicites did not attend the past employee grievance meetings, and in one case tried to stop the grievance from advancing to a Level 3 to reach his desk. When it did reach his desk, he nor Joe Hardy, former commissioner, attended the grievance meeting.
We wonder why so many of our young do not stay in Fayette County to fill what might be some of the rare, better paying jobs that we do have to offer. This is a prime example of why some of our children will not stay if they want to work in the mental health field, or why some good staff left the county work force in record number. Although the name of the government department or agency officially changed, its reputation of being a hostile work environment with unprofessional practices precedes it. Employees offended by some of the nonsense and taxpayers ticked off by government workers drinking on the job should not have to rely on this column or the hopes that Mr. and Mrs. Mazza will speak out at a county commissioner meeting to get real changes in their workplace..
As for the CEO, she probably still is the best person for the job. But to continue in her position -- especially with what could be a very different board of county commissioners as her boss in four months -- she absolutely must clean up the agency and stop the nonsense if she wants to keep attracting good staff and must truly have the courage to "weed out the evil" when needed. Those really are the only hurdles keeping her from being the best in her position across the state.
No, Fayette County won't change overnight. But here's a golden opportunity to change one small $40M piece of it.
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