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Search still on for Homestead code enforcement officer

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Homestead is looking for a full-time code enforcement officer.

“We have advertisements out,” borough manager Ian McMeans said. “We are accepting applications.”

He said Evermore Consulting LLC is providing part-time code enforcement services until the position is filled.

Council removed Thom Betz from the post on July 26 by a 5-2 vote, with council president Susan Titmus, vice president Barbara Broadwater, and Councilors Ron Blount, Zaneta Hines and Donald Turner in favor. Councilmen Drew Borcik and Lloyd Cunningham opposed the firing.

Betz clashed with some councilors when he distributed applications for business privilege taxes to the three jitney stands along Ann Street on Jan. 9 of last year.

Some business owners had complained earlier that jitney drivers weren't paying the annual $75 tax, and that the stands didn't have occupancy permits.

Betz said a two-month investigation into those complaints revealed that at least 39 jitney drivers were operating from those stands.

Betz claimed council told him on Jan. 10, 2012, to “let it alone.”

Betz, who worked for the borough since May 8, 2008, filed a lawsuit on Sept. 6 in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, claiming council retaliated because of the investigation.

The suit alleges that council violated the state Whistleblower Law, which prohibits employers from discharging, threatening or otherwise discriminating against an employee who “makes a good faith effort or is about to report, verbally or in writing, to the employer or appropriate authority an instance of wrongdoing or waste.”

According to the lawsuit, Blount and Hines are jitney drivers who, Betz claims, motivated council's actions.

Those included, the suit says, enacting an ordinance prohibiting Betz, a certified state constable, from carrying a weapon; ordering him to stop enforcing ordinances and regulations relating to the business privilege tax; disciplining and remanding him for attempting to collect the tax from jitney drivers; denying his vacation request; disciplining him for calling off work for illness; and removing him from his job.

The borough claimed in preliminary objections that Betz didn't make a “good faith report” of “wrongdoing or waste” and he “attempted to usurp the function of the borough tax collector.”

The borough said it has no duty to collect the business privilege tax, and therefore failing to do so does not constitute wrongdoing or waste.

The borough suggested that Betz should have taken complaints to the tax collector instead of conducting his own investigation.

Those objections on behalf of council were overruled by Common Pleas Judge Robert Colville on Nov. 26.

The borough claims in the lawsuit that Betz was terminated because he failed to attend mandatory meetings, didn't answer questions from the borough manager about his activities, lied to council, didn't follow borough procedures for calling off of work, and didn't perform code enforcement full time but instead worked as a constable while being paid by Homestead.

Betz said in court documents that he is wrongly accused and he was never disciplined before Hines and Blount became councilors.

Blount died on Sept. 25 from cardiac arrest.

Resident Carol James asked council at a meeting on Thursday night if business privilege taxes are being collected from jitney drivers because, as borough solicitor Bernie Schneider acknowledged in May 2012, even illegal businesses are obligated to pay.

“The tax collector is a distinct elected officer of the borough of Homestead,” Schneider said. “Council has no disciplinary authority over the tax collector.”

Tax collector Joyce Stype did not respond to a request for comment by presstime.

Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or slee@tribweb.com.

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