Ligonier officials axe zoning officers
Ligonier Township zoning officer Cynthia Angelo was fired this week amid allegations she was operating a “personal Internet flea market” from her township office, according to Supervisor Tim Komar.
Angelo, 49, who had been suspended without pay since Tuesday, was fired during a special meeting Thursday. She served as the township's paid assistant secretary-treasurer. She was earning approximately $37,000 a year, according to Supervisor Albert “Mike” Shadron.
Angelo declined to comment on the matter on Friday.
“(In) any office anywhere, there's people that will check this or that on the Internet,” Komar said. “(But) when the time spent doing your personal stuff outweighs doing your job by a long shot, there's an issue. We've suspected this for quite a while. We needed facts.”
Komar said the investigation into former supervisor Keith Whipkey's abrupt resignation in May “opened a door,” leading officials to evidence that Angelo was running the Internet operation during working hours using township computers. Komar said Whipkey had been viewing “Internet sites that were inappropriate on company time.”
“At the onset of this, I basically felt he was guilty of being stupid and pushing a save button on a computer, which opened us up to a potential lawsuit,” Komar said. “I felt that's all he was guilty of at that time, and I did defend him and tried to keep from dragging him through the gutter. Unfortunately, as that progressed, there was a lot more of not doing his job.”
An audit conducted by Deltron Management Consultants uncovered the evidence of Angelo's activity, as well as more evidence of Whipkey's activity, Shadron said Friday.
Whipkey, 57, served as an elected supervisor for 16 years and as the township's non-elected, paid secretary-treasurer for 23 years, earning $47,500 a year as well as approximately $2,000 for attending meetings. He resigned from both posts.
“I resigned for personal reasons,” Whipkey said when contacted by phone on Friday. “I'm working somewhere else now.”
He declined further comment.
Komar said officials found 87 pages of Web page printouts relating to Angelo's Internet business.
He said in firing her, officials cited several violations of rules stated in the township employee manual including: nonperformance of duties, unauthorized use of township computer for personal business, interfering with the township's access to computer systems and having computer files that were not work-related.
In a letter to Angelo, Komar wrote, “At the beginning of the investigation into Mr. Whipkey's resignation, it was thought ... that Mr. Whipkey was guilty of exposing the township to a sexual harassment lawsuit by downloading pornography to a shared file accessible only by one female employee and himself. As the investigation went on, it was determined that there were other issues going on, some of which were felt to be illegal. As assistant secretary-treasurer the focus turned on you as certain things were not adding up.
“Some time ago you had asked the supervisors if they could get you a helper to help with filing as you could not keep up. During the investigation it was determined that most of your work time was spent managing your internet business.”
At Thursday's meeting, resident Kimberly Thomas said she believes Angelo “stole from the township residents and township taxpayers” by using the office computer for personal business.
Komar told Thomas that the township would look into pursuing theft charges against Angelo and Whipkey.
Whipkey cited personal reasons when he resigned in the midst of his re-election campaign, township officials said.
The supervisors had not previously disclosed the circumstances surrounding his resignation.
On Thursday, Komar and Supervisor Albert Shadron voted to fire Angelo. Grover Binkey voted no and said officials should wait until an audit is completed.
The zoning office will be closed until further notice, and letters of interest for the zoning officer position will be accepted through Aug. 2.
Komar said major zoning issues are on hold until further notice, but “any existing permits or applications that are in the process, we'll do whatever we can to facilitate them within our legal rights.”
Supervisors voted to appoint Barbara Hollick as assistant secretary-treasurer until reorganization on Jan. 6, 2014. Angelo had been appointed to the office following Whipkey's resignation.
Hollick has worked as the receptionist in the township building for about six years. She will earn $12 an hour, a pay increase of $1 per hour.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be contacted at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.