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Highlands board ripped after 2 left off list for jobs

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007

Eliminating two long-time employees from those approved to work at boys basketball games created a stir at Monday's board meeting.

Some residents who questioned the action raised the specter of political payback from last week's election in which two board members, president Francis "Chris" Salego and Bruce Figler, who was absent Monday, lost their seats. That apparently ended the current board's majority.

It began when board member Judy Wisner questioned why two names that were on the list at last week's agenda session were excluded from the list that came up for approval last night.

Board member Ron Misejka said the names were left off because there was not a board majority, five members, to support them.

Later however, during the citizens comments portion of the meeting, Tim McCue, a former board member brought the matter up again. He said the two people left off the list were Janet Mack, a ticket-taker for at least 15 years, and Denny Wrey, the basketball scorekeeper for 17 years.

McCue asked why it was done.

"We could not get five to support those two," said Ron Lang, the board's athletic committee chairman.

"I don't believe we have to give you an explanation why," Misejka said, which prompted a chorus of protest from the standing room-only crowd.

Mack, who was at the meeting, rose and said, "I would like to know why."

McCue persisted, asking, "Can anyone here say she (Mack) didn't do her job?

Board president Francis "Chris" Salego told McCue that it was a personnel matter and he was crossing the line with his questions. He turned to Solicitor Ira Weiss for his opinion on the matter.

"The board does not have to disclose that if it does not want to," Weiss said.

"The reason I heard they were eliminated is that they had yellow signs in their yard," McCue said.

That was a reference to signs that backed members of a ticket that opposed the current board majority. Former board member Karen Wantland and former Highlands athletic director William Heasley, who defeated Salego and Figler, were members of that ticket.

"I wouldn't know about that," Salego responded, which prompted another negative reaction from the crowd.

Harrison resident Joe Lucchino said the board erred by appointing the same person as boys and girls scorekeeper, saying that the teams' schedules conflict.

He also questioned if the board was doing disservice to boys basketball Coach Rich Falter and a team that should be one of the best in the WPIAL by putting someone new in as scorekeeper.

Acting Superintendent Nick Staresinic said listing the same person as scorekeeper for both teams was an error and that the job for the boys' team had not been filled.

Lucchino also raised the prospect of politicking. He produced a printout of a posting dated Oct. 31 which he said came from an Internet blog operated by Misejka.

The posting, which Lucchino read aloud, was: "Oh and my advise (sic) to you sign holders -- we got ur (sic) number. Remember the worst scenario, we hold five seats for the majority????"

"That was signed by 'Shake,' and we all know who that is," Lucchino said, referring to Misejka who is known by that nickname.

Misejka made no to effort to refute what Lucchino said.

Resident Sally Coyne then rose to address the board and, turning to Mack, advised her to contact the American Civil Liberties Union. She said losing employment because of political expression is illegal.

"This board must have a legitimate reason for not extending your employment," Coyne said.

Coyne then asked the board which members did not support keeping Mack. Again Salego said it was a personnel matter that the board did not address.

But Coyne countered by saying that if Mack and Wrey were on the list at the agenda session, they should have been voted on at a public meeting. She said the board may be violating the state's Sunshine Law because that did not happen.

Gary Alexander, who is leaving the board, said he knew Mack and her son for a long time and that he had nothing to do with not retaining her. He said if he had a vote on it, he would have voted to keep her and Wrey. Wisner spoke up and said the same thing.

In both cases, the crowd applauded and cheered.

Coyne asked board member Mark Peck, who has voted consistently with the board majority in the past, if he did not support Mack.

Peck looked at Mack and said he also knew her from when he went to school at Highlands.

"I was not even aware that this was taken off," Peck said. "My opinion is that I would have never voted her off, or Mr. Wrey for that matter."

That prompted more applause from the public. Coyne tried to poll the rest of the board as Salego gaveled her out of order, and a security guard approached Coyne from across the room.

Salego asked or a motion to adjourn, which was made quickly and approved, as Lucchino shouted, "And you wonder why you lost (the election) three to one."

After the meeting Mack was asked if she thought the reason for her being left off the list was political.

"That's what I think," Mack said. "It was the yellow sign in my yard for Karen Wantland and Bill Heasley."

She said she also worked as a ticket taker at the football games, earning about $23 per game. "I never missed a game in 20-some years."

As for contacting the ACLU, Mack said, "I think I might."

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