AP NEWS

Prison board wants say in hiring of warden as it reverts to old policies

February 20, 2019

Somerset County Prison Board members unanimously voted Tuesday morning to return to policies and hiring practices in place during Warden Gregory Briggs’ tenure. They also agreed to post an advertisement for a new warden.

The warden position has been in flux since Briggs left for a position in Dauphin County in October. The board hired Michael Porter, of Texas, in November.

On Feb. 5 the board voted to fire Porter while he was still in his 90-day probationary period. Porter has challenged the dismissal.

While warden, Porter made various hiring and policy decisions without the prison board having the opportunity to review or approve any changes. He was questioned about those decisions Feb. 5 by board members before they went into executive session and returned to announce his immediate termination.

“Essentially, we are back to where we were,” prison board President Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser, the county district attorney, said.

The prison board reaffirmed a past practice of all jail personnel matters going to the board of county commissioners, provided, however, that the prison board has a role in selecting and appointing the warden and deputy warden.

Prison board members want to be involved at the beginning of the hiring process for these two positions per the legislative authority granted the board when it was formed in the 1990s.

In other business, the prison board discussed what was viewed as an expensive and unproductive decision made by Deputy Warden John Caron regarding the online officer training program. Caron was let go in December.

The members voted to cut the program, which cost the county semiannual payments of $2,500, and to try to recoup as much money as they can.

“If it isn’t working let’s stop it right now and try to recover some of the money back that we’ve already paid,” board member Brad Cramer, the county sheriff, said.

The board unanimously agreed.

No one was sure if the program had already been deactivated by Caron before he left. Jail Lt. Brian Pelesky said jail officials have tried to reach the owner of the online program and cancel it, but have been unsuccessful.

The jail has gone back to the practice of in-person training, and that seems to be working better, Pelesky said.

According to Sonya Augustine, commissioners’ office chief clerk, no bill for the program has been paid so far in 2019. There was a semiannual bill of $2,500 paid in 2018 for the program, she said.