Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Regulars at Commissioners Meetings Question Esterbrook Departure

The Commissioners faced heavy criticism today over the unexpected departure of former County Administrator Mark Esterbrook.

Esterbrook was widely regarded as an extraordinarily competent and objective manager.

The Commissioners would not comment on his release, which includes three months of severance pay and benefits, and it appears that Esterbrook has been sworn to silence as part of the settlement.

NewsLanc publicly expressed grave concern about the implications for free speech and democratic government that both Mr. Esterbrook and former Deputy Administrator Frank Koerber have agreed, as a condition of their release, not to "disparage any former or current county employee or official."

While we fully understand the sensitive nature of personnel issues, these provisions apparently amount to an outstanding gag order.

"To pay in excess of $70,000 in salary and benefits in order to stifle criticism amounts to little less than bribery at taxpayers' expense," said NewsLanc reporter Matt Henderson.

Bonnie Miller of Manor Township, April Koppenhaver of Lancaster City, and Jane Albright of East Lampeter Township - all regulars at County Commissioners' meetings - extolled Esterbrook's virtues and questioned the mysterious circumstances of his departure.

"Something happened behind the scenes here, and I don't like it one bit," said Miller.

In other business, the Commissioners approved "extending the term of the existing Coroner's Office lease for an additional three months for the period May 1, 2008 through July 30, 2008" for 1,368 square feet of office space at Lancaster General Hospital at a rate of $540 per month. The Cornoner's Office has been temporarily located at Lancaster General until the renovations at 150 North Queen Street are completed.

The Commissioners also approved a resolution proposed by Commissioner Martin "to prohibit the budgeting of funds individually for any Commissioner for the purpose of enabling a Commissioner to grant or allocate funds, based upon his or her individual discretion, and judgment for purposes and recipients determined solely by an individual Commissioner."

Bonnier Miller of Manor Township, in the audience, lauded the move as a step towards open government.

The Commissioners also approved $87,880 (90% of which is State funding) in grants "to be used for planning, development and training activities for the implementation of a Mental Health Treatment Court in Lancaster County."

Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman said that the County hopes to have a mental health court "up and running hopefully by the end of 2009."

He went on to call it a very positive step for the system to treat rather than incarcerate individuals with mental health issues.

Commissioner Martin agreed, saying that incarceration costs taxpayers a lot of money.