NC: Strelish, Henderson Still Cashing LCTA Paychecks

Two Luzerne County Transportation Authority officials charged last month in connection with the Ghost Rider scandal will continue receiving paychecks for another seven to 10 weeks.

The authority board in June voted to place Executive Director Stanley Strelish and Fixed Ride Operations Manager Robb Henderson on unpaid administrative leave following their arrests on charges of conspiring to inflate senior citizen bus ridership numbers in order to increase state subsidies to the authority.

But the men were allowed to use up their accrued personal, vacation and sick time until either it is exhausted or a determination is made in the case.

The Times Leader last month requested the amount of accrued sick, personal and vacation time that each man had earned as of their date of leave, and authority solicitor Joseph Blazosek recently provided the information.

Strelish had accumulated 510 sick leave hours, 120 vacation hours and 16 personal hours, while Henderson had accrued 387.75 sick leave hours, 144 vacation hours and eight personal hours. That equates to about 16 weeks of accrued paid time off for Strelish and about 13 weeks for Henderson. Six weeks have passed since their leave began.

Strelish does not participate in the authority's health insurance plan. Henderson contributes $109.58 monthly. Strelish's annual salary is $86,571.94; Henderson's is $50,544.26, according to Blazosek.

With the release of a grand jury presentment on June 4, the Office of Attorney General Kathleen Kane charged Strelish, 60, of 17 Dogwood Drive, Wilkes-Barre, with 47 criminal counts, among them theft by deception, tampering with public records, unsworn falsification, false swearing and obstructing justice, and Henderson, 58, of 230 Harland St., Exeter, with 27 counts that include conspiring to tamper with public records, aiding the commission of a crime and conspiring to obstruct justice. Both are free on $25,000 unsecured bail.

Authority Chairman Sal Licata on Tuesday commended LCTA staff and board members "for stepping up to the plate and continuing to do a great job for the past month." He also thanked the members of the board's committees "for all the extra time and effort they're putting in to make sure and ensure that operations are continuing and running the way they're supposed to at LCTA."

For example, Licata said, members of the personnel committee spent close to seven hours of their own time over the past two weeks "investigating and looking at issues that LCTA is faced with."

During public comment, Amanda Potechko, of Wilkes-Barre, asked about the status of leadership at the authority in the wake of the arrests.

Licata said the personnel committee has been meeting and had "a lot of discussions in regards to leadership here" over the past five to six weeks. He said after consulting with senior staff, he has asked the board to come to next month's meeting with ideas for interim leadership.

"We're operating, everything is working the right way, but we just can't continue to go on this way," Licata said after the meeting. "We have people doing the job, but no one's steering the ship."

He said no senior staffers were interested in taking on additional responsibilities of interim executive director. "They don't want their jobs or the role of their jobs to suffer by taking on more duties. Considering what's happened, they want to make sure everything's being done the right way," Licata said.

In a related matter, the board approved changes to the management organizational chart. The new chart does not list Henderson's position of fixed ride operations manager; it lists a new position of operations director, to which the board voted to appoint former Road Supervisor Lee Horton. The road supervisor position had been eliminated and Horton had been moved temporarily into a position of safety/training manager for the fixed ride program before his promotion.

Jim Darr's shared ride operations manager position was changed to safety/training manager for the shared ride program.

Another new position added to the chart was director of Administrative Services, to which the board voted to appoint former Internet Technology Director Joe Roselle. His former position is not on the new chart.

Horton's salary increases from $46,995.52 to $55,000 and Roselle's climbs from $58,632.34 to $75,000. Other new positions added to the chart include a compliance analyst and a systems specialist, both yet unfilled.

In other business:

  • Licata told the board he expected Luzerne County Council would approve a resolution at their Tuesday night meeting to provide matching funds necessary to make the LCTA eligible to receive a $5.15 million state subsidy for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Council did vote later that night to approve a local funding match of $353,461.50, leaving the authority responsible for providing $156,150.50 in previous county funding that remained unused in the LCTA's coffers. Council voted not to provide any matching funds to Hazleton Public Transit because HPT has about a half million dollars in unspent previous county funding.
  • Solicitor Joe Blazosek informed the board that LCTA ridership on June 19 -- Dump the Pump Day -- increased by about 4,000 riders -- to 4,644 passengers -- over last year's Dump the Pump Day, a day on which transit systems offer free rides to promote the benefits of public transit. Board member Valerie Kepner said she heard from many people who suggested the authority advertise the annual observance more vigorously on TV and in newspapers. Licata asked that management mark their calendars for next year to do so.

Copyright 2014 - The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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