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Cavanagh offers no apologies for criticism

| Friday, Oct. 26, 2001

UNIONTOWN - Fayette County Commissioner Sean Cavanagh on Thursday offered no apologies for his attack on the head of the county's tax claim bureau earlier in the week after he said that she was not following procedure - placing collected money into separate cash drawers.

At Thursday's voting meeting, Cavanagh said that Donna Yauger has shown willful misconduct in her duties as head of the tax claim bureau and called for her resignation and, if supported by his colleagues, her termination.

Neither Vincent Vicites nor Ronald Nehls would support Cavanagh. Rather, Vicites, board chairman, said Yauger brought to his office a photo copy of a voucher dated Aug. 17, 2000, when she requested money for the cash drawers.

Cavanagh claimed that bureau employees were placing the money that came into the office into one cash drawer after security measures were implemented last fall not to do this. The commissioners implemented a 14-point checklist and sent Yauger a memorandum on Aug. 23, 2000, outlining the policy and bureau procedures, after a $900 shortfall was reported. The Tax Claim Bureau collects past-due taxes and administers semi-annual tax sales.

Yauger said Tuesday that she asked the county controller for money to give the clerks each day. This would enable the clerks to balance out their collections at the end of the day.

Vicites said the copy of the voucher was proof that Yauger made a request and proof, in fact, that the commissioners' office was at fault. Vicites, after the meeting, said that there are numerous vouchers lying around the office of county fiscal analyst, Bruce Beard.

"It is unfair to attack her when she sent the voucher down," said Vicites.

Vicites said that Beard has been told about the situation several times. When asked by a news reporter if Beard would be reprimanded, Vicites said he would not discuss personnel issues.

Answering Cavanagh's attack, Vicites said, "We need to work together as a team...not destroy her life. We're trying to find jobs for people in Fayette County and were going to fire someone." Vicites said that Yauger does have letters of reprimand in her employee file.

Attempts to reach Yauger on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful. A person answering the phone at the tax claim bureau said Yauger had stepped out of the office and she did not know when Yauger would return.

Cavanagh countered that Yauger's voucher was an effort to cover her tracks. He then alleged that other incidents have occurred in the tax claim bureau, including the mistreatment of customers. Cavanagh said he has been told that other county department heads were helping Yauger in the office and she had even brought in non-county employees to work in the tax claim bureau. Cavanagh said that Yauger's actions are either incompetence or corruption. "This is a department run amuck."

"How do you gentlemen feel about (Donna) Yauger having people from outside work in the office?" asked Cavanagh. "Is that proper behavior• It all adds up. This person should be terminated or should resign."

During the diatribe, Cavanagh and Vicites traded verbal shots. Cavanagh said Vicites was defending Yauger because he had hired her. Vicites countered that Yauger has been a county employee for 25 years, and she was not Vicites' friend. Vicites said he is not happy with Yauger's job performance, but felt she does not deserve to be terminated.

At one point during the argument, Cavanagh suggested that Vicites have the copy carbon dated for its age. Cavanagh said Yauger's actions were paramount to her "thumbing her nose at the board." He said department heads who "don't do it the commissioners' way do it the highway."

Cavanagh said the tax claim department has an abominable history. "The county commissioners have the right to remove or keep department heads. I felt it was important to bring this up. I'm not happy with this individual."

During the heated discussion, Nehls sat quietly in his seat, offering no comment. Prior to adjournment, Nehls explained his reasoning. Nehls said he has a different philosophy than his colleagues and has no illusions that he can change their minds.

Nehls, drawing on his years' of experience in supervisory roles, said, "If you have an employee who has not come to the level they should be and you've given them the tools and support to come to that level" then terminating that person is the action one would take.

Cavanagh said that since Tuesday he has been criticized for handling the situation inappropriately but was not going to make any apologies. Vicites said he did not like the way Cavanagh handled the situation and said personnel matters should be handled internally.

Vicites said Cavanagh's criticism could leave the county open to a lawsuit to which Cavanagh replied, "sue me." Cavanagh stated that he has been successful in defending lawsuits brought against him and he is not afraid to terminate an employee nor talk about the issue on television. The commissioners' meetings are taped by two cable companies.

"We have to be careful here," said Vicites. "These are personnel issues." Nehls agreed with Vicites' statement that personnel issues should not be aired in public and should be settled in private.

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