Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lally not lollygagging

Here in the patch, we don't know the meaning of life, or even why the Pittsburgh Penguins got bounced from the NHL playoffs by the Philadelphia Flyers. But we do know that if you are sick, you should listen to the doctor, and that the sudden clunking sound from your car's transmission is best diagnosed by a good mechanic.

So we took great interest when Fayette County controller Sean Lally threw a big monkey wrench into the plan of Fayette County commissioners Vince Zapotosky and Al Ambrosini to give a $2,600 pay raise to the new county chief clerk-in-waiting before she even works one day on the job.

The job is already on the books with a $32,064 starting salary, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Zapotosky and Ambrosini, who voted April 17 to hire reporter Amy Revak for the job, would like to throw some extra cash her way before she accepts the position.

Revak, you will recall, has absolutely zero experience in accounting or finance, which are key skills for anyone who would be expected to help devise and manage the county's multi-million-dollar budget.

Zapotosky and Ambrosini may be willing to gloss over the big gaps in Revak's resume when it comes to the job they wish to put her in. But Lally, who knows a thing or three about accouting and budgets, clearly isn't afraid to point them out, as he did in Wednesday's Tribune-Review story, "
Fayette OKs public works post, unofficially":

Lally wanted to keep the starting salary at $32,064 because Revak, who has a bachelor's degree in English, lacks accounting education and experience. He said the $34,600 figure is slightly less than the salary of an employee in his office who has four years' experience and a degree in accounting.

Lally said his employee, who would provide Revak with the figures needed to prepare the budget, would then be "making a whopping $1,300 a year more, with four years' experience and a four-year degree in accounting.

Every resident of Fayette County should read those two paragraphs very closely. Then they should ask themselves two questions:

1. Why would Zaptosky and Ambrosini want to hire someone to manage the county budget if that person lacks accounting education and experience?

2. Why would a chief clerk with no accounting background (who would basically serve as a fiscal figurehead) deserve $2,600 more if an employee already working in the conroller's office is simply going to provide all the figures needed to prepare the budget?

That raise didn't happen at this week's salary board meeting, because Lally wouldn't play ball.

But there is another paragraph in the Trib story that should also be digested by all residents:

(Commissioner Angela) Zimmerlink said that leaves commissioners with two ways to set Revak's salary - via a memo signed by at least two commissioners and then ratified during a commissioners' meeting, she said, or by waiting until the next commissioners' meeting in May to allow all three commissioners to vote on it before it is approved.

Either of those moves would appear, on face value, to remove controller Lally from the equation. These two methods would let Zapotosky and Ambrosini outvote (or out-sign) only Zimmerlink.

Does anyone besides us get the gnawing feeling that all those election-time promises about "running the county like a business" are starting to ring very, very hollow?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And the best job candidate is ...

Fayette County is looking for a new chief clerk, and the overall objective of the job, as posted on the county's website is: To perform a variety of complex financial and administrative duties to assist the County Commissioners in the management of the County, its programs and expenses.

The listed education/training requirement for this job? Bachelor's degree, preferably in Accounting, Public Administration, Business and/or related field.

The listed work experience? At least 4 years experience in Accounting, Public Administration, Business and/or any equivalent combination of experience, education and training which provides the required knowledge, skills and abilities.

You can view the entire job description here:

So it makes perfect sense that Commissioners Vince Zapotosky and Al Ambrosini are hiring reporter Amy Revak, who:

1. Has zero work experience performing a variety of complex financial and administrative duties.

2. Has a bachelor's degree in English (which doesn't sound to us like a field related to accounting, public administration or business).

3. Has zero work experience in accounting, public administration or business.

Forget about this being an obvious political hire, which it is. The larger issue, and it's a big one, is Revak's nonexistant resume when it comes to fulfilling the obligations of this very important job. As a beat reporter for the Herald-Standard, and before that the Washington Observer-Reporter, she has not one visible shred of administrative or management experience.

The only financial experience she probably has is balancing her check book, which is not exactly the type of skill that qualifies you to help develop the county's multi-million-dollar budget.

Only Zapotosky and Ambrosini know why they favor Revak over a candidate who holds a master's of business administration degree. But that didn't stop Zapotosky from saying this to the Tribune-Review :

Zapotosky said he favors Revak over the candidate with accounting experience because of her knowledge of county government while working as a reporter.

"She brought that to the table, plus her writing skills and media background," Zapotosky said. "Another candidate had accounting skills, but the overall, well-rounded skills from one candidate exceeded those of the other."

If Revak's "knowledge of county government while working as a reporter" qualifies her to be the county's chief clerk, then any of the gaggle of other reporters who have done a far superior job are qualified to be U.S. Secretary of State. (And that list includes the Tribune-Review's Liz Zemba, who unlike Revak at least deemed it newsworthy that the county district attorney was convening a grand jury.)

As far as Revak's "writing skills," we will wait to see the list of journalism awards she has won. And we will wait a very long time to see that list.

With Revak officially hired on Tuesday (sorry for the typo that originally said Thursday), her stories about letter to the editor writer Ruth Thompson and disaffected Marcellus Shale Task Force member Karen Jensen are coming into clearer focus.

Zapotosky and Ambrosini could still back out of this potential mess, but that is highly unlikely. What is certain is that Revak's days covering county government should be over. It even appears that at next Wednesday's Salary Board meeting, she will be getting a raise. The job has a starting salary of $32,064, but Zapotosky told the Trib that.the figure could be adjusted higher when the salary board meets. .Why would he even be mentioning that if it weren't already in the works?

We are eagerly waiting to see Sunday's issue of, to see how editor Mark O'Keefe weighs in on this hire. He used to cover county government, so he is intimately familiar with the demands of this job. And he is certainly familiar with Revak's work background and abilities.

Revak is now fair game for editorial commentary. Let's see what is said.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Extra! Extra! Read all about it ... in the Tribune-Review!

Here in the patch, we think editor Mark O'Keefe needs to expand his plea for new tips. It clearly isn't enough that he has implored the public to please let him know what's going on in the news. He now needs to make a direct appeal to Liz Zemba, the Tribune-Review reporter who works for his chief competition.

It was Zemba who skunked a couple of weeks ago, by reporting that during a meeting of the Fayette County Salary Board, District Attorney Jack Heneks revealed that staffing changes he asked for would facilitiate creation of a grand jury he plans to convene a in the near future.

Amazingly, Herald-Standard reporter Amy Revak, who attended the same March 28 meeting as Zemba, did not mention anything about a grand jury in her story. Nor did Revak follow up the next day, as did Zemba, who on March 29 got further explanation from Heneks in the story, "Fayette DA seeks to empanel grand jury."
It is not every day that the district attorney seeks to put together a grand jury. (And here in the patch, even we know that one of the likely matters headed for this particular grand jury concerns voting in Bullskin Township.)

In any county, the news of an impending grand jury is certainly a newsworthy event. And by mentioning it at a public meeting, Heneks was certainly not trying to make a secret of the fact. He was pretty much opening the door and inviting any inquiring mind to ask.

After Zemba pretty much covered all the bases with her Thursday story, O'Keefe's charges finally got into the act. On Sunday, April 1 -- four days after the salary board meeting -- the Herald-Standard's Jennifer Harr finally did a story that basically mirrored what Zemba had put in print two days earlier. We have little doubt Harr was given mop-up duty on this one.

The question O'Keefe should be asking himself -- and that readers as well as upper management should be asking themselves -- is why any of his reporters could have been so asleep at the switch. Does anyone besides Amy Revak really think that the reclassification of four sheriff's deputies and the resulting pay raises of $2,500 each is more important and newsworthy than the convening of a grand jury?