Uncertainty surrounding the renewal of the Lycoming County chief clerk’s contract spurred row officers, past employees and one commissioner-elect to speak on his behalf during the commissioner’s public meeting Thursday.
Matthew McDermott’s five-year contract as Lycoming County’s director of administration/chief clerk is set to expire at the end of this year. As the highest ranking employee for the county, McDermott’s contract renewal also has highlighted a long debate over employee moral in the county.
For his part, McDermott said he would like to keep his position.
“I’m committed to the county … If I wasn’t, I would have already been gone,” McDermott said. “My job is to administer the policies of the commissioners, but it should be a two-way mutual kind of respect.”
As a personnel matter, the commissioners were unable to speak to the exact reasons why McDermott’s contract would, or world not, be renewed. However simply allowing the contract to lapse won’t end his employment. McDermott could remain with the county as an at-will employee.
“Whether we decide to go ahead with a contract, or have him as an at-will employee, or not to go ahead at all, that is a decision we need to make,” said Commissioner Rick Mirabito.
Thursday was Administrative Manager Tonya Anderson’s last day working in the county commissioners’ office and she took the opportunity at the meeting to commend all county employees for their dedication to the county and remind the commissioners that the employees also are taxpayers.
She went on to single out McDermott as a vital member of the county and an important connection between the commissioners and the employees.
Anderson’s words sparked a comment from county Sheriff Mark Lusk who took a more aggressive approach, reprimanding the county commissioners for waiting so long to make a decision on the contract and for not valuing their staff.
“You have a director of administration here who’s a veteran and he doesn’t know if in 45 days he’s going to have a job,” Lusk said. “It doesn’t seem as though there is support for the top employee.”
Mirabito did not respond to the status of McDermott’s contract, but defended the commissioners by pointing to their efforts to provide good health care and pensions to the employees.
“It’s a two-way street. We are doing everything in our ability to maintain these jobs, which are good paying jobs,” Mirabito said. “I get a little upset when I hear attacks made against this board that we don’t care about employees.”
McKernan, who is finishing his last two months in office, disagreed that employee moral is low, saying that most of the turnover in the county comes from the prison correction officers.
“We always do what is best for the county,” McKernan said, and added that the commissioners can’t “speak on employee matters publically.”
An Early Intervention Report published in February found that employee morale in the county is low, with many employees feeling “they are always asked to do more with less and are not recognized for that work.”
In addition it found a general dissatisfaction with the employee evaluation process in the county.
Commissioner-elect Scott Metzger, who will replace McKernan in January, said McDermott is an asset to the county and urged the current board to make a decision on his contract.
“The county would be in a lot worse shape if it weren’t for Mr. McDermott’s leadership,” Metzger said.
Former Prison Warden Kevin DeParlos also spoke on McDermott’s behalf. DeParlos, who started working for the county in 1981 and was warden for 13 years before retiring in April 2018, said the chief clerk is vital to department heads, especially the position of warden.
“Matt always was supportive,” DeParlos said. He encouraged the commissioners to renew McDermott’s contract, saying the leadership ability he brings to the position is “vital.”