Fayette commissioner claims process to pick new assessor 'reeks of politics'
An architect showed up this week to start work as a Fayette County assessor, only to learn he lost the job to a Uniontown councilman.
“My understanding was, I was to be the recommended candidate, and I was to come in” on Wednesday, said Ernest Walters of Uniontown. “I showed up for work and found out that somebody else was awarded the job.”
Minority Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink wants to know why Jared Billy, who most recently ran a nightclub, was recommended for the job over four candidates with real estate experience.
Based on the recommendation of Human Resources Director Dominick Carnicella, commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to hire Billy.
“This is a poor reflection on the county,” Zimmerlink said. “It reeks of politics.”
Zimmerlink said she relied on Carnicella's recommendation, but later learned Billy became the top candidate before he appeared in person for an interview. Commissioners Al Ambrosini and Vincent Zapotosky said they hired Billy on Carnicella's recommendation.
Carnicella said Billy's name was forwarded to commissioners before Billy met with Chief Assessor Bill Lukach because Carnicella had spoken with Billy previously and was familiar with his qualifications.
Although Billy most recently managed several nightclubs, he was the best fit for the job because he has experience in electrical and masonry work, Carnicella said.
“I did talk to the individual about his qualifications late last week, and then he met with the department head the morning before the meeting,” Carnicella said. “He's a mason and he's done electrical work, so when someone's building a new home, he knows the ins and outs of the materials used, and that's important when assessing new buildings.”
Billy said he was in touch with the human resources department since submitting his resume in September.
“I've been in conversations with Dominick quite a few times,” Billy said. “I was just waiting for an opportunity to have an interview.”
Zimmerlink said Carnicella and Lukach interviewed the other candidates on Feb. 13, and agreed to recommend Walters. Lukach declined to comment.
On Feb. 14, Walters said, he spoke by phone with Carnicella, who told Walters to report to the courthouse for a background check and advised him he would receive an access code to the employee parking lot.
“He said come on down, I need you to sign a background check, and we need to see when you can start, how about the 19th,” Walters said.
Carnicella said he typically discusses a start date with all candidates and advises them of various benefits, which include parking.
Zimmerlink said she will rescind her vote for Billy. “I'm withdrawing my vote not because of the individual, but because of the process,” she said. “There's no way I can support anyone for a position that hadn't even been interviewed.”
Under the job description for a tax assessor, qualified applicants are expected to have at least six months of experience working in real estate or tax assessment, plus training in real estate or property appraisal.
Walters has been a registered architect in Pennsylvania since 1989, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. He owns E.A. Walters Architecture and Design of Uniontown.
Billy's resume indicates he studied electrical engineering for one year at California University of Pennsylvania and did electrical work in 2005. He has experience in business and hotel hospitality, most recently working as “owner/operator” at Cabaret Night Club.
Tax records indicate the club at 62 W. Peter St. is in a Uniontown building owned by Democratic state Rep. Tim Mahoney. Billy lists Mahoney as a reference on his application.
Mahoney described Billy as a “bright young man” who has been trying to obtain a job with the county for nearly two years. “He's only in his 30s, and for the county to hire a young man like that, and train him to a job, he'll be there for life,” Mahoney said. “If it was a political favor for somebody, and say, if the guy was 50 or 60, I'd question that.”
Mahoney and Zapotosky noted Zimmerlink voted to hire Billy.
“I rely on the human resources director to make the recommendation,” Zapotosky said. “I don't sit in on the interviews. Dominick made the recommendation, she seconded it, and it was a unanimous vote.”
Ambrosini said Billy was the recommended candidate.
“I expect the department heads and human resources to do their job,” Ambrosini said. “I leave it to human resources and department heads to make a recommendation, and I always go with their recommendation.”
Zimmerlink said the incident “adds to my disappointment of how Felice and Dominick have provided, and continue to provide, human resources services to Fayette County, and how some hires are selected.”
Walters said architecture jobs have been scarce since the economic turndown, but he remains optimistic about being hired by the county. “I don't want to cause any trouble, but I believe in fairness, too,” Walters said. “I'm going to wait patiently. I'm sure there will be another opening.”
Billy said he looks forward to learning the job, obtaining his certification and providing years of service.
“I'm young and I want to grow with that department,” Billy said. “Do I know everything? No. But I'm willing to learn.”
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.