North Strabane official subject of ethics investigation
North Strabane Parks and Recreation director has held position since 2011
The state Ethics Commission is investigating North Strabane Parks and Recreation Director Greg Sulc over his 2011 appointment to that position immediately after resigning as a township supervisor.
The investigation, which began in late 2011, revolves around how Sulc was selected to become the township’s new parks director and whether his previous position as chairman of the board of supervisors influenced the decision.
Sulc was one of three finalists for the job when the board voted 3-1 in September 2011 to appoint him to the position and pay him a $60,000 salary. Sulc resigned from his seat on the board moments before the vote. The decision sparked outrage from some residents who felt the appointment was politically motivated.
Sulc did not return a phone call seeking comment on the investigation, but his attorney, Charles Kurowski, said the township official did “absolutely” nothing wrong.
“He had to abstain, and he did so rightfully and voluntary, so there was no appearance of impropriety,” Kurowski said.
The Ethics Commission held hearings at its Pittsburgh office Monday and Tuesday to hear testimony from current and former township officials about the situation. Sulc and his attorney asked for the normally secretive proceedings to be open to the public.
In addition to Sulc’s testimony, former township solicitor Pat Smider, township Manager Frank Siffrinn, Supervisor Robert Balogh, former supervisor Bill Brooks and three of the candidates for the director position also testified during the two-day hearing. Brooks was the only supervisor to vote against Sulc’s appointment to the position.
Jim Jeffries, the township’s present solicitor, attended the hearing and denied North Strabane officials did anything wrong. Jeffries added he is “baffled” by the investigation.
“The township did nothing wrong to appoint Mr. Sulc. He went through the same process as the other candidates,” Jeffries said. “He was completely shielded and excluded like the other candidates. Once he announced he was interested in the position, we excluded him from anything to do with the parks position.”
With testimony finished, the Ethics Commission is awaiting briefings from both sides that will essentially serve as closing statements. Rob Caruso, executive director for the agency, said the commission will review the testimony and briefings before making a ruling on the case. That decision could come as early as April, although Caruso expects it most likely to made over the summer.
There is a 30-day “blackout” period in which the order is sealed, giving a defendant the opportunity to file a motion for reconsideration or appeal to Commonwealth Court.
He could not comment on specifics with the case, but said the hearing’s testimony would eventually be transcribed and released to the public.
It was not known who initiated the investigation or what fines Sulc might receive if found to have been in violation of state ethics laws. Sulc remains the parks and recreation director after the current township board of supervisors declined to vote on the position last month.
The three sitting supervisors have been deadlocked on a variety of appointments, including two vacancies on the board of supervisors. They will meet at 8 p.m. Friday with the vacancy board in hopes of breaking the tie.