Luzerne County Children and Youth Advisory Board seeks consultant’s removal from new director selection committee

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | February 10th, 2016 7:11 pm

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

The Luzerne County and Youth Advisory Board voted Wednesday to recommend consultant Richard Gold’s removal from a committee that will select the troubled agency’s new executive director.

Board members pointed to a new anonymous employee survey that was highly critical of Gold.

Board member Barry Finn read survey comments alleging Gold is unprofessional, belittling workers and “verbally abusive to staff.”

Such behavior should not be tolerated, especially when workers are under “enormous stress and underpaid,” Finn said.

The state downgraded the agency’s license to provisional status in October following a review stemming from the death of a child. The state licensing inspection summary cited “serious concerns regarding agency practice” and “regulatory violations,” identifying staffing shortages as a major cause of the agency’s issues.

“Get this guy out of here,” Finn said of Gold.

Board member Andrew Logue said the recommendation to keep Gold out of the selection process will show employees the board supports them, not someone who is “causing havoc” and “has broken too much glass.”

“Hopefully this is a small way of beginning the healing process,” Logue said.

Gold, of Philadelphia-based Richard Gold LLC, has received at least $91,000 in payments for consulting work since the end of March 2014, even though his hiring in the fall of 2013 was supposed to be temporary, county records show.

County Human Services Division Head David Schwille said Gold — a former deputy secretary for the state Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Children Youth and Families — has “done a lot” to improve practices.

County acting Manager C. David Pedri told the board Wednesday the upcoming hiring of a new director and recent management appointments in other human service departments will end the need for an outside consultant.

The director position is open because Krista McIlhaney resigned as Children and Youth overseer at the end of 2015.

Schwille said Gold is among seven people, including three advisory board members, scheduled to interview five executive director finalists later this month and make a recommendation to Pedri, who has final say on who is hired under the county’s home rule charter.

Schwille said after the meeting he will consider the board’s unanimous recommendation to remove Gold from the process.

He acknowledged Gold can be “grouchy” when he believes the rights of children are being violated but said he respects and values Gold’s opinion and intelligence and considers the consultant an “agent of change.”

Children and Youth Deputy Director Judi Omerza did not disagree with the complaints about Gold but pointed out the survey results did not reflect some of his positive contributions.

Pedri also provided an update on the staffing shortage, informing the board the agency has hired more caseworkers and is now down to nine openings.

“At one point we were up to 30. We’re finally getting the staff here that people need,” he said.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.