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Residents upset about Somerset County’s second Lone Star State hire

January 8, 2019

Under protest from residents, the Somerset County commissioners hired a new operations and maintenance manager from Texas on Monday.

Commissioners Gerald Walker and Pat Terlingo would not comment about the man’s criminal history, citing a personnel matter. Commissioner John Vatavuk was not at Monday’s meeting.

During a special meeting Monday the commissioners hired Matthew Cody Graham, who is now living in Berlin but is from Texas, to replace Dan Gindlesperger. Gindlesperger retired at the end of 2018.

According to a news article from Frio-Nueces Current, a Texas publication, Graham was charged, along with two other people, in March 2017 with misappropriating funds at the La Salle County Regional Detention Center at Encinal after a sheriff’s investigation.

The center holds detainees of the U.S. Marshals Service. According to the newspaper article, the sheriff’s department said at that time “that the three suspects may have failed to notify their superiors during the summer of 2016 that some of the federal detainees’ personal effects — notably cash — had been stolen and, instead of summoning an investigation into the apparent theft, allegedly diverted funds from a trustee account to repay the detainees what had been taken from them.”

The Daily American is still working to confirm the outcome of the case; however, some court records indicate that Graham served probation. A call to the 81st Judicial District Attorney’s Office was not returned Monday.

Walker confirmed that a mug shot used in the newspaper article was of Graham, the county’s new employee.

Walker said he thinks Graham and recently hired Somerset County Jail Warden Michael Porter, who is also from Texas, “know each other.”

When asked if they knew about Graham’s background when they hired him, Walker and Terlingo said that it is a personnel matter.

“At this point it is a personnel matter,” Terlingo said. “It will all be out in the wash very soon.”

Terlingo confirmed that if someone was convicted or found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, they could not work in court buildings.

Several people attended the meeting to express their frustration with the hirings. The complaints focused on hiring individuals from outside the area and did not mention Graham’s background.

“I don’t know these guys from Texas,” Sipesville resident Eric Trent said. “What is the justification (for) not hiring someone in Somerset County or the state of Pennsylvania?”

Melissa Trent asked what the deciding factor was in Graham’s hiring.

“You had many qualified people in the county you are not giving any justification,” she said.

“I honestly don’t know what to tell you,” Walker responded.

After a brief back-and-forth about what the deciding factors were, solicitor Michael Barbera said the board has a general rule of not commenting on personnel matters.

“I think Commissioner Walker already said plenty here today,” he said. “We appreciate your comments.”

Although the job listing for the maintenance position was no longer listed on the county website Monday, two other job listings ask applicants “if (they) have ever been convicted or pled guilty or no contest to a felony or other crime (A conviction will not necessarily result in denial of employment.)”

The board first approved hiring Graham to an interim position effective Dec. 19, then promoted him from interim manager to manager effective Dec. 29. During the salary board meeting, the board voted to create and then dissolve the interim position. Treasurer Donna Matsko Schmitt said she voted against the creation because it was handled three weeks after the individual was placed on the job.

“The county knew the retirement date for the previous director months in advance but made no move to create any interim positions as a contingency,” she said. “Now we seem to be taking this action after the fact. I am deeply concerned about the hiring process for this position given the serious concerns raised following the selection of this candidate.”

Vatavuk was not at Monday’s meeting because he was in the hospital. The board did not disclose his illness.

“I think we all need to have our prayers for John,” Terlingo said.

In other business the commissioners:

Paid $2,171,101.02 in bills

Approved the following personnel actions:

Resignations/separations from employment:

Agricultural extension office: Kathleen Shaffer, of Jennerstown, administrative assistant, effective Jan. 31.

Adult probation: Justin Silvis, of South Fork, probation officer I, effective Dec. 27.

Area Agency on Aging: Michael Tressler, of Somerset, part-time food service worker, effective Dec. 20. Jennifer Yoder, of Berlin, aging care manager II, effective Jan. 4.

Children & Youth Services: Rebecca McCartney, of Boswell, caseworker I, effective Jan. 9.

County jail: John Caron, of Windber, deputy warden, effective Nov. 30; Toni Maranowski, of Somerset, lieutenant, effective Dec. 18.

New employees:

Area Agency on Aging: Kaye Hillegas, of Hollsopple, aging care manager I, $24,461; Gerald Walther, of Somerset, part-time meal deliverer, $10.37 per hour, effective Jan. 8.

County jail: Briana Porter, of Somerset, part-time correctional officer, $14.70 per hour (editor’s note: She is not related to the warden); Brianna Brown, of Somerset, part-time correctional officer, $14.70 per hour; Melvin James Cochran, of Cumberland, Maryland, part-time correctional officer, $14.70 per hour; Ricky Lee Keeseman, of Chambersburg, part-time correctional officer, $14.70 per hour, effective Dec. 20.

Entrepreneurship & Innovation Department: Scott Stuttard, of Altoona, director, $51,500, effective Dec. 18.

Sheriff’s office: Michael Volk, of Somerset, part-time deputy sheriff, $12.97 an hour, effective Jan. 2.

{p class=”p1”}Reassignments/promotions:

{p class=”p1”}Area Agency on Aging: promote Melissa Beam, of Hooversville, from administrative officer II to deputy administrator at an annual salary of $30,000; reassign Audrey Wertz, of Johnstown, from long-term living program manager to aging care manager supervisor, decreasing her salary from $42,571 to $42,245, effective Jan. 8; promote Freeman Raley, of Somerset, from part-time meal deliverer to full-time food service worker for a salary of $14,430; promote Wendy Clay, of Somerset, from maintenance worker for the maintenance department to the facilities maintenance manager at the Area Agency on Aging, increasing her salary from $27,673 to $29,000; promote Mark Collins, of Somerset, from part-time to full-time custodial worker at an annual salary of $27,065, effective Jan. 8.

County jail: promote Sean Ibinson, of Fairhope, from part-time to full-time correctional officer at an annual salary of $30,576, effective Dec. 15; promote Dennis Vought, of Somerset, from full-time correctional officer to deputy warden, increasing his salary from $40,747 to $43,228, effective Dec. 22.

District attorney: reassign Jason Hunter, of Windber, from chief detective to detective, decreasing his salary from $41,315 to $39,707, effective Dec. 19; promote John Loiodici, of Rockwood, from detective to chief detective, increasing his salary from $31,371 to $33,281, effective Dec. 19.

Prothonotary: promote Tracy Barron, of Somerset, from part-time to full-time clerk at an annual salary of $19,500, effective Jan. 8.

Public defender: reassign Adam Gibson, of Somerset, from interim investigator to investigator at an annual salary of $33,000 (same), effective Jan. 1.

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