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Article published January 16, 2013
No outside counsel
Itzi Meztli Slippery Rock Borough
Starting off the New Year on the wrong foot, the Butler County commissioners decided to squander up to $5,000 to hire an outside law firm to investigate a sexual discrimination complaint filed internally against Commissioner Jim Eckstein. Because of so-called “personnel issues,” the commissioners have refused to reveal the name of the county employee who claimed gender discrimination. However, it’s really the responsibility and duty of the county’s new solicitor, Mike English, who earns an ample $90,000 salary, to gather the facts of the case and then report on it. As reflected during the Jan. 9 commissioners meeting, the county still has outgoing solicitor Julie Graham working in a solicitor role, so we in effect have two lawyers at our disposal. Therefore, why do we have to run to outside counsel to deal with the Eckstein problem? Ineffectual county governance leads to wasteful spending of our hard-earned tax dollars. Considering his outsourcing of legal work to high-powered Pittsburgh lawyers, I think the county made a mistake in selecting English as its top barrister. If each time someone lodges a complaint against Eckstein the commissioners rush to retain outside counsel, to the tune of $185 per hour or more, then one can expect the county, figuratively speaking, to go broke soon. Because of the first Eckstein complaint, the one involving the female director of Butler County Children and Youth Services, and one that he claims exoneration, the county will incur a $2,500 fee and have all three commissioners attend an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission-mandated training workshop. Because of the second complaint against Eckstein, county government will be dishing out another $5,000. And, to top it off, the commissioners increased the real estate tax by 1 mill to balance “shortfalls” in its budget. Why give outside lawyers money on a silver platter? Based on his constant chastising of colleagues, Eckstein doesn’t have the common sense to act civilly to those around him. And, since the other two commissioners have refused, so far, to do anything about it — at least to call him out when he gets unbearable during meetings — then I believe the administration of Butler County will be in a constant state of crisis with no end in sight. Meanwhile, county residents are paying a hefty price for it.