Participating in the Wyoming County Prison Board meeting prior to the regular commissioners meeting on Jan. 9 were (clockwise from lower, left) Jeff Mitchell, Ken Repsher, Russell Shurtleff, Paul Litwin III, Tom Henry, Bill Gaylord, and Ed Sherman and (at rear) Gordon Traveny (left) and Stephen Franko.
Photos and Story by Rick Hiduk
(As published in the Jan. 11 edition of the Rocket-Courier)
Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry reported on Tuesday that about 45 applications have been received in response to the announcement that Tom Katchur would be stepping away as the county’s IT guru. The applicants are so varied as to skill levels and what they might offer that Henry was reluctant to define a timeline as to when a decision might be reached.
“We really want a full time person,” Henry explained, adding that the field has been narrowed to approximately seven applicants. Nonetheless, a first interview yet remained on his schedule. “It seems that every time we think we’ve got the right one, another good person comes along.”
The commissioners have been consulting with the prison warden and managers at the EMA and 911 centers on their options, as the need for a technology specialist now reaches every nook and cranny of the county’s operations. If one person can be found qualified to cover all the bases, agreements like that which the county has had with AMP Technologies would not have to be renewed.
Owing to that uncertainty, Jeff Porter (above) and the commissioners agreed to table that particular contract of the several other service agreements Porter had brought to the table for renewal.
Henry (below) appeared to be running a one-man show on Jan. 9, but commissioner Judy Mead participated via speaker phone. She related that she had recently fallen on the ice and broken her wrist. Commissioner Ron Williams was out for a doctor’s appointment.
The regular commissioners meeting was preceded by a brief meeting of the Wyoming County Prison Board. Warden Ken Repsher reported that there are currently four prisoners outsourced to other facilities, and that the number could go up the next day, depending on sentencing at the courthouse. The cost to the county in 2017 to boarding out inmates to other counties will likely end up at about $150,000 when December’s figures are finalized.
Repsher also noted that there have been some minor maintenance issues at the prison, including leaking showers. Henry assured him that he has been looking at bids and expects to have a contractor secured shortly who can make the repairs in one or two working days.
Prison staff is still anxiously awaiting a new control panel that is under construction. Failures to the existing panel have forced corrections officers to resort to keys to manually open and close cell blocks on occasion, which they are prepared to do again if necessary. “It works. It just takes a lot longer to do things,” Repsher remarked.
Prior to Wyoming County Housing & Redevelopment Authority grants administrator Lisa Hahn (below, right) bringing some contracts to the table for renewal, Henry announced that John Jennings had resigned as H&RA director at a public board meeting held in Nicholson on Dec. 20 and read portions of his resignation letter. Danielle Powell (left), who has been with H&RA since 2011 has stepped into Jennings’ position.
In the wake of Jennings’ departure, Hahn was in attendance to ask the commissioners to make appointments to the now vacant seats for fair housing policy director and appeals hearing officer. In the past, Jennings filled both positions. Jefferey Zimmermen, a citizen in attendance, suggested that having the same person in both roles was a conflict of interest.
“If you are filing an appeal, maybe the agent handling the program should not be making the determination,” Zimmerman stated.
Hahn related that there have been no appeals in recent memory and therefore nobody ever questioned Jennings assuming both roles. Nonetheless, she wasn’t opposed to having the decision tabled while the commissioners looked into the situation.
Henry noted that there is a still a vacancy on the board that he hopes can be filled by someone from a part of the county that is currently under-served. Since the commissioners will be communicating with Hahn and Powell on that matter, he felt it best to take the time as well to consider Zimmerman’s comments.
The H&RA has come under scrutiny in the past year as members of the public brought numerous complaints to the commissioners about unreturned phone calls and emails and a general lack of transparency.
Commissioner Williams responded to more of the same complaints at the Dec. 26 commissioners meeting by saying that, despite the fact that H&RA is technically a state agency, the public has a right to know what funds are available and how they are being spent.
Henry was apparently aware of the pending changes at the Authority when he suggested on Dec. 26 that appointing new board members would be another step in the right direction toward bringing about the changes at the Authority which the public is seeking.
Wyoming County planning director Lynelle Welch (above) reported the resignation of planning board president Jim Capucci and the need for his replacement. She also reminded the board that Marcellus Legacy Fund grant applications will be accepted through March 1. Though she had yet to receive any, Lynelle said that is normal at this point and she expects to receive applications requesting more funds than the $50,000 made available from Act 13 funds.