Coroner plans to hire assistant who made news here and in Texas

July 23, 2013
Washington County Coroner Tim Warco, left, is shown at a recent news conference with county District Attorney Gene Vittone. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The Washington County coroner’s office is often in the news because death takes no holiday. But an employee in the coroner’s office who is getting a promotion to chief assistant, Megan Marsteller of Washington, also made the news two years ago here, in Texas and elsewhere.

A Google search of Megan Marsteller and Texas led to Texas Monthly’s 2012 Bum Steer Awards and the headline, “As a fugitive, I feel I bring a unique perspective to the job” and goes on to read, “An arrest warrant was issued for Megan Marsteller when she twice failed to show up to serve a four-day sentence at the Tarrant County Jail, a condition of her probation on a drug charge. Authorities then learned that Marsteller had fled the state for Pennsylvania – to take a job working at a county probation department.”

The Washington County Salary Board on Thursday unanimously approved a reduced salary for the position of chief assistant in the coroner’s office at the request of Coroner Timothy Warco.

No name was mentioned either on the agenda or during the course of the brief meeting, but Warco later identified Marsteller, a relative of former state Sen. J. Barry Stout and sister-in-law of the coroner’s son, as the person who would be filling the position.

“Everybody deserves a second chance in life,” Warco said.

Marsteller will be replacing Jean L’Altrelli, who recently retired after working for the county since 1991.

L’Altrelli’s salary had been $35,940, but the salary board approved a reduction to $34,875, the minimum rate for that type of position, because Marsteller, 34, does not have her predecessor’s 22 years of experience. Warco said he has known Marsteller for four years, and that she has worked in his office for a year and a half.

“She’s on good behavior,” Warco said. “She’s done her job well, and she learns quickly. She has developed the Washington County coroner’s website.”

Washington County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi, who along with his colleagues on the three-person board and county Controller Michael Namie are members of the salary board, said that as an elected official, Warco is permitted to both choose and discharge employees of his office.

“The commissioners have no say in that,” Maggi commented after the meeting.

Warco said, “I went to the commissioners and cleared it with the understanding we’re going to give her a chance.”

Maggi, a former state trooper and sheriff who said he’s long advocated mandatory criminal background checks for all prospective county employees, said no name other than that of the retiring employee was mentioned to him.

Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan said Warco told her he’d be hiring full-time the person who had been working as a contract employee in his office because she was the only person who had any experience there.

And although the coroner mentioned Marsteller’s name, Irey Vaughan said she didn’t recall the 2011 flap. But she did say that several years ago, a county employee was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet due to court-ordered monitoring.

“We don’t have a county policy that would prohibit an elected official from hiring someone on probation,” Irey Vaughan said. “The matter will be discussed going forward.”

The commissioner reiterated Maggi’s statement that the coroner, as an elected official, has the right to choose the person he believes will best do a job.

“I knew that was out there being thought about,” Commissioner Harlan Shober said Tuesday.

“I heard that was something being considered. If the coroner wants to hire someone, that’s not up to the commissioners. I don’t want to make light of this. People want to do things right.”

Marsteller’s first stint as a Washington County employee was brief. President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca appointed Marsteller to the probation department May 26, 2011, but vacated her order 13 days later after a story appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and a Texas probation officer started making phone calls to track down Marsteller.

The newspaper reported that Marsteller was serving three years of deferred-adjudication probation for fraudulently possessing hydrocodone, a painkiller. Stout, a powerful Democratic state lawmaker who had retired in early 2011, said he recommended Marsteller, his niece, for the clerk-typist job at the Washington County probation office, not knowing she had a criminal charge against her in Texas.

Jim Sinclair, assistant director of the Tarrant County Probation Department, said Marsteller’s probation, transfered here, is due to expire Feb. 17, 2014.

“The last case note I have in our file was from the 15th of this month,” Sinclair said in a voicemail message Friday. “And as of right now everything appears that she is in compliance and probation is just rocking along. She is on a three-year deferred adjudication for the offense.”

“We haven’t put her on the employment rolls yet,” Charles Nicholls, director of the Washington County Human Resources Department, said Tuesday of Marsteller.

Nicholls said he is aware that an employer is not permitted to have a blanket policy that prohibits the hiring of anyone ever convicted of a crime.

Those with criminal records must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and the law permits employers to screen prospective employees to keep them from working in circumstances related to their criminal charge. A person convicted of theft of money from a casino, for instance, would not have to be considered for a cashier’s position, Nicholls said.

“If it’s totally unrelated, it would be discriminatory to hold that against them,” he said. A more typical situation human resources departments face, Nicholls said, is “10 years ago, someone had a DUI.”

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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