CLARION - Clarion County Sheriff Rex Munsee said Tuesday (Jan. 14) is seeking legal counsel's advice after the Clarion County Board of Commissioners rejected the sheriff's move to hire former county district attorney Mark T. Aaron as a deputy sheriff.

"I'm deeply disappointed," said Munsee. "I believe they (the board of commissioners) have violated county code I'll seeking legal counsel on the matter."

The issue started at the board of commissioners' Jan. 14 meeting. Among the items on the commissioners' meeting agenda was action on a "new hire," listing Aaron to fill a vacant full-time position at an hourly rate of $12.01 per hour effective Feb. 3.

Commissioners Ted Tharan and Ed Heasley voted no on the action.

Commissioner Wayne Brosius voted in favor of the action.

"I think it needs some review," Tharan said later in the meeting when asked why the hire had not been approved. "I mean, we had a public defender position open and Mr. Aaron used to be public defender and he didn't apply for that."

Heasley added he would like to discuss the matter with the county's labor legal counsel before a decision is made.

But do the commissioners have the power to stop Munsee from hiring Aaron?

A change in hiring procedure?

It was the county's labor legal counsel -- Christopher Gabriel who in March of 2018 advised the board of commissioners to change the way some applicants are hired for county employment.

Prior to March 2018, the county salary board which included the three commissioners Ted Tharan, Ed Heasley and Wayne Brosius and county treasurer Tom McConnell along with the elected row officer for the office in which the new hire would work, voted to establish the position if not already established, set the salary for the position and hire the person for the job.

According Gabriel, that method was inconsistent with the state county code.

Gabriel recommended, and the commissioners adopted, a procedure under which the position and salary range are set by the salary board and the hiring is done by the elected row officer.

Hence, if the position already exists and becomes vacant, the row officer for the department in which the position exists can hire a candidate without the approval of the base salary board the commissioners and the treasurer.

The March 2018 changes came as the board of commissioners wanted to hire a person to fill the newly-created position of county director of employee relations and asset management at an annual salary of $39,400.

At the time, McConnell had opposed some previous hirings made by the commissioners, questioning the lack of job descriptions and a lack of an established salary schedule.

The change in the hiring procedure eliminated the need for McConnell's approval or input.

The asked each of the three commissioners for comment on the policy giving row officers the authority to hiring employees without approval from the commissioners or the salary board.

Only Brosius responded.

"Mark's hiring by Rex was not on the salary board meeting (agenda) but the commissioners' meeting as a matter of information," Brosius said in an email response. "We have regularly put hires for row office positions on the commissioners' meeting agendas but it probably should have been under ¬Ďannouncements.'

"Elected row office officials are (able to make their own hiring decisions) like the sheriff.That's why I voted in favor -- because I figured it's his decision to hire who he wants."

Is Aaron qualified to be a deputy?

Munsee told the CLARION NEWS, "I'm in a bind with a full-time opening and no one interested in taking it.

"Mark came to me and said he would like to take the job and I'll be honest, he said he needed the (health) insurance."

Munsee pointed out the county-paid health insurance would not be available to Aaron until at least May 3 if the hiring was approved with an effective date of Feb. 3.

Nor, Munsee said, would Aaron be "sitting in the office twiddling his thumbs."

Munsee said Aaron would be a uniformed deputy sheriff and would perform routine duties should as se4rving civil papers, transporting prisoners and other duties.

Aaron is not Act 120 certified, but Munsee said the former district attorney does not need to be to start the job.

"But he does have a law degree, he has 20 years of criminal prosecution experience. He knows the law," said Munsee. He has taught various classes, he has done many, many public presentations on many, many public safety topics."

Munsee also addressed the issue of Aaron's county retirement benefits.

"He would be making a whopping 12 dollars and one penny an hour," said Munsee. "I don't think that's going to make much difference in his retirement."

Aaron comments

Aaron told the CLARION NEWS he was never approached by the board of commissioners about the vacant public defender's position, adding it would not make sense for him to accept that position at this time.

"It just wouldn't be practical right now," said Aaron. "I would have a conflict of interest with every case filed before Jan. 1, 2020."

Aaron said he intends to open a law office in Clarion and practice criminal law.

"But due to the potential conflicts, it wouldn't make sense to start for a while," said Aaron. "Also, it's not feasible to take my pension until I reach full retirement age later this year."

Aaron said the possibility of him working as a deputy sheriff came up in a conversation with Munsee.

"We thought it would work out if I helped him out for a while," said Aaron. "Until I open my office after most of the current pending (criminal) cases have worked their way through the system."

CLARION NEWS staff writer Brett Kriebel contributed to this report.