Town angry with northwest PA nepotism policy violation

By Rachel Martin | Watchdog.org

PITTSBURGH — Residents of Millcreek Township, nestled against Erie in northwest Pennsylvania, are unhappy about the township hiring a supervisor’s niece.

While a majority of the supervisors agree the hiring violates the township’s nepotism policy, the decision will still apparently stand.

HIRING BROUHAHA: Millcreek Township has experienced a nepotism controversy, after two of three township supervisors voted to hire the niece of one for a top administrative position.

The controversial decision was made at the Nov. 11 Board of Supervisors meeting. Ashley Marsteller was hired as the township’s director of the Parks and Recreation department, a full-time position that pays $52,000.

Marsteller, the niece of Supervisor Rick Figaski, was chosen over some 50 applicants for the job.

Figaski and Supervisor John Groh voted in favor, even after Supervisor Brian McGrath raised concerns that hiring Marsteller would violate the township nepotism policy.

The policy states “no relative of any Millcreek Township employee at the level of Department Head, Chief, and no relative of any Appointed Official under the Second Class Township Code shall be eligible for employment by Millcreek Township.”

Nieces are specifically included.

The township’s employment application restates the policy, and the applicant signs under the statement “I have read the above listed Millcreek Township policy regarding the employment of relatives and certify that my employment would not violate this policy.”

The issue has certainly raised the ire of some — including four pages of spirited comments on one community forum.

“Millcreek must have gotten dozens of applications for a position like that. I find it hard to believe that a part-time lifeguard was the most qualified. I can’t wait to watch this meeting to see Figaski try to squirm his way out of this taxpayer screwing.”

-creeker, Reading, PA

“The issue is something that I have complained about on this site for years, Erie hires their own, who are usually less than qualified and as a result the region is disintegrating. NW PA has become an incestuous cesspool surpassed only by Luzerne County and the City of Philadelphia for its corruption.”

-sick of entitlement, Erie, PA

McGrath and Groh confirmed that they’ve received many questions and comments about the hiring.

Figaski did not return multiple requests for comment.

Groh said that one of the biggest issues is lack of communication between the supervisors. “This girl made it through three rounds of interviews — nothing was ever raised, by anybody,” Groh told Watchdog.org.

Until the meeting, anyway.

In contrast, “My understanding was that our director of HR made everyone aware of the nepotism issue,” said McGrath. He had checked and “our labor attorney said that it clearly violated (the nepotism policy).”

Groh said he checked with the attorney after the meeting and was told “the hiring was contrary to township policy.”

Another issue regards interpretation. Even though it is very clearly stated — certain relatives of elected or higher official are simply not “eligible” for employment — it has not been evenly implemented.

Marsteller has been employed part-time by the township for the past 14 years, most recently as a pool supervisor. In an earlier interview, Figaski said supervisors voted unanimously to hire her each season, so over the five years Figaski that been a supervisor McGrath voted to reappoint her 20 times.

McGrath acknowledged he voted to employ her previously. He said that she had been employed there, in that part-time job at $10 an hour, long before Figaski was in office, so it didn’t seem fair not to allow it.

But hiring her as a department head was a “significant difference,” McGrath said.

Groh disagrees about Marsteller’s status, as well. He said he thought Marsteller had been a permanent part-time employee, and not one who had to be rehired each season.

Marsteller could not be reached for comment.

At the next meeting, Groh read from a statement — also provided to Watchdog.org — in which he apologized. “Although most Millcreek residents are angered with my actions, no one is tougher on me than myself,” he said. “I wish to offer my sincere apology to Millcreek residents for not knowing all the facts before making a decision. I assure you it will not happen again.”

McGrath said there has been no discussion among the supervisors about any vote to rescind the hiring decision. “She’s a smart young lady. I think she’ll be able to gain the experience to do the job.”

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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