Westmoreland commissioners focus on eliminating political activities inside courthouse
As election season in Westmoreland County swings into full gear, commissioners on Thursday approved a revised policy they said will ensure there is no politicking by county employees while on the job.
The revised policy specifically prohibits workers from performing any political activity while on duty or coercing any employee to conduct campaign work or any other similar chores during the workday. Campaign materials will not be allowed on attire, on desks or in the vicinity of work stations.
While the use of county buildings for political meetings will continue to be banned, the policy includes exceptions for locations that can be rented out by the public or open spaces, such as the courtyard in front of the courthouse, which is routinely used for public gatherings, including campaign rallies.
“This is to ensure that county employees, including us, are comporting ourselves correctly,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas.
The revised three-page policy replaces a two-paragraph document that had been in place for more than a decade but did not carry specific examples of many actions that are now considered banned political behavior.
Commissioners said the policy revision is not in response to the ongoing criminal case against Sheriff Jonathan Held, who is accused of directing deputies and office staff to perform campaign chores while on duty. Held has denied those allegations. His case ended in a mistrial in December after jurors were unable to reach a verdict. His retrial has not been scheduled.
During that trial, a number of sheriff’s department staffers testified they were directed by Held to gather prizes and plan for campaign fundraisers. Prosecutors said uniformed deputies drove county-owned cars to perform some of those tasks and used county computers as part of the campaign work.
The county’s revised policy details what is considered banned political behavior. Many actions are closely in line with the allegations that were detailed in the criminal case against the sheriff.
“The bottom line is we just can’t have it,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.
Employees can be suspended or fired for violating the political activity policy.
Meanwhile, commissioners appointed assistant solicitor David Regoli to serve as an ethics compliance officer for the county. Regoli, a former Common Pleas Court judge who was hired in 2016 to serve as a litigator in the county solicitor’s office, will be the point man to determine ethics issues, including what constitutes political behavior, commissioners said.
Regoli, who earns about $71,000 annually, will not receive additional pay for his new responsibilities.
“It will be helpful to have a go-to person to say what may fall into any gray areas,” Anderson said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .