When Luzerne County’s administration hired Richard Gold as a consultant in the fall of 2013, it was portrayed as a temporary assignment to recommend and implement human service division reforms.
However, county records indicate Gold has received $91,000 in payments for consulting work since the end of March 2014, raising questions about why he’s still here.
Records were not available to show what the county paid Gold through his consulting company — Philadelphia-based Richard Gold LLC — from the date of his hiring in October 2013 through February 2014.
Several workers and officials have been privately questioning his role and the need for the expenditure.
County Human Services Division Head David Schwille said Wednesday the administration has kept Gold primarily because he has been assisting with problems in the county’s Children and Youth agency.
The state downgraded Children and Youth’s license to provisional status in October following a review stemming from the death of a child. The state cited “serious concerns” about agency practices and regulatory violations.
“There’s obviously a lot of room for improvement. That’s no secret,” Schwille said.
Gold, who is former deputy secretary for the state Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Children Youth and Families, has been evaluating staff assessments of clients to flag concerns and suggest improvements, Schwille said.
He also has been teaching caseworkers new techniques to assess and work with clients, Schwille said.
“He’s really trying to improve the way caseworkers approach their families,” Schwille said. “He’s done a lot to improve caseworker practices.”
Schwille said he’s heard complaints about Gold from some Children and Youth staff but believes much of this stems from a resistance to implement new ideas. Gold works as a consultant performing similar human services analysis in other counties, including Lackawanna, he said.
“He hold’s people’s feet to the fire, and some folks do not want to change,” Schwille said. “He’s definitely not sitting around drinking coffee when he’s here.”
Former county manager Robert Lawton has said money budgeted for unfilled vacant positions has funded Gold’s contract.
It was unclear Wednesday how Gold was paid $91,000 because only two contracts have been publicly posted on the county website that leave a coverage gap.
The initial contract with Richard Gold LLC called for payments of $100 per hour for up to 240 hours plus expenses, for a projected total of $25,500 from October 2013 through January 2014.
A new contract running from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, was publicly posted on the county website in September. This contract says Richard Gold LLC will be paid up to $50,000 during that period at an hourly rate of $100.
According to county financial records, $74,800 of the payments to the consultant were made between the two contracts.
County Councilman Edward Brominski had questioned why the county human resources department or other management could not handle the work performed by the consultant when Gold was first hired.
Lawton told the council Gold had specialized expertise.
“Skilled though our Human Resources Department may be, I believe the Human Services program supervision, process improvement and reform initiatives contemplated under this agreement are beyond its scope,” Lawton wrote in reply.