WEST CHESTER — When he was elected Chester County Prothonotary in November 2015, Matt Holliday was employed as the chief of staff for then-state Rep. Dan Truitt of East Goshen. But, as he said in a recent interview, he knew that this would have to change once he took office at the county Justice Center.
“I knew it was important not to try to do two jobs,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly have two taxpayer-funded jobs. I had been told it was a constitutional obligation to supervise your office, making sure that it was running efficiently and effectively for the public.”
Over the next four years, until he left office in December 2019, Holliday could be found working in the office, which handles filings for civil case in Common Pleas Court, usually at his desk but sometimes at the counter helping the public and occasionally even in the courtroom, on a daily basis.
“For me, I know it was very important, for my staff, to be working alongside them,” he said in response to questions from a reporter. “I thought it was important to be a full-time staff member.” That way, he knew what the procedures in the office were, where there might be problems or ways to make things work more smoothly and understand how the Prothonotary’s Office interacted with the public.
But he acknowledges that it was only his own initiative that governed his time in the office. Legally, there is nothing in the state County Code to set the amount of time he spent in the office on a daily, weekly, or yearly basis.
The issue of what hours an elected county official should or does work in their public office came to life this month when it was confirmed that county Sheriff Fredda Maddox, a Democrat elected in November 2019, had taken a full-time position as Chief of Campus and Public Safety at Cheyney University in addition to her duties as sheriff. When questioned about her decision to accept the chief’s job, she resigned, about one month after accepting the $112,000 a year position.
“I did not do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical,” Maddox said in a 20-minute telephone interview Monday about her work as both sheriff and chief. She insisted she was capable of working effectively in the two positions. “As long as I can do both (jobs), I saw no issues.”
Because there is no requirement governing work hours for so-called Row Offices, the answer to how much is time on the job is enough may come down to whether the voters believe the office one holds is running efficiently, despite less than full-time oversight, or whether they demand a constant presence in the office, no matter how much the official does once they “clock-in.”
To Holliday, the answer to the question was simple: he’d do the job as close to the 40 hours a week that county offices are open, and sometimes exceeding that. But he accepts the fact that others may not. “Some people put a lot into it, others less,” he said. “There is no (human resources) department checking your time card (if you are an elected official.)
“I think each individual official needs to do what is best for the taxpayers who elected them,” Holliday said. “For me, it as hand in glove. I was there to witness the office’s overall customer service and workflow. I understand that others may not feel that is necessary in order to effectively supervise their staff.”
Last week, MediaNews Group contacted each of the 11 non-judicial county elected officials (absent Maddox) — the three commissioners, clerk of courts, controller, coroner, district attorney, recorder of deeds, register of wills, and prothonotary — and asked whether they had any outside employment, what it was, and how much time they spent at that position.
Three of the officials — commissioners Chairwoman Marian Moskowitz, Controller Margaret Reif, and Treasurer Patricia Maisano — reported that they did have other work outside the county offices they hold, but that the amount of time spent on them was minimal at best.
All but one of the others — commissioners Vice Chairman Josh Maxwell, Commissioner Michelle Kichline, Clerk of Courts Yolanda Van De Krol, Coroner Dr. Christine Vandepol, District Attorney Deborah Ryan, Recorder of Deeds Chris Piella, and Prothonotary Debbie Bookman — said they had no outside employment.
Moskowitz said she holds partnerships in more than one private development company, some owned with her husband, but spends less than five hours a week on those businesses. Likewise, Reif owns a contracting company and a property management business with her husband, but also spends less than five hours a week at both, if that. Maisano said she spends “less than 100 hours a year” on a private consulting business she owns.
County Register of Wills Michelle Vaughan is the sole official who reported having a significant outside job.
“Since 2002 I have held a full-time technology position in the life sciences field,” she said in an email, working for subsidiaries of Johns & Johnson, initially at Centocor, a heath care company located in East Whiteland. She identified her position as senior manager for IT governance and vendor management.
“Because it is a global company, that job provides me flexibility to engage with my colleagues over multiple time zones,” Vaughn said. “That employment does not in any way affect the full-time commitment that I have in serving as Register of Wills and Clerk of the Orphans Court,” which she works at largely remotely because of the pandemic.
Asked to address Maddox’s decision to take on a new job last year in addition to her sheriff’s duties, most declined to comment.
“I can only speak for myself in that I did pledge to treat this position as my full-time employment,” said Pielli, an attorney who left private practice after his election in 2019, in an email. “Despite a pandemic, or when sick or on vacation, I believe I have fulfilled that promise whether I am in the office (usually) or working remotely.”
Maisano bristled at being asked the question of outside employment, claiming that it had been the rule in her office before she took over.
“I am surprised that, after over 200 years, there is finally an ‘outside’ employment question for county elected officials,” she said in an email. “The ‘missing’ elected officials were known countywide and extended well beyond my office. As this was such an open situation … I can only conclude that this is more a political question than a question of attention to office.” She, however, declined to comment on Maddox’s decision.
Until 2018, most of the elected Row Officers were Republicans. With the exception of Kichline, the county’s minority commissioner, they are all now Democrats.
Reif said she contacted Maddox and asked her about the matter when she heard about it.
“She explained that she is always working, or wants to be, and could handle the two positions, that they wouldn't be in conflict, and that she was passionate about the work that needed to be done at Cheyney University,” Reif said.
“But what struck me the most was that when it seemed the decision to take the second job would create an issue in the media — and she had to choose — she chose to stand by the oath she took to represent those that had elected her, despite the great personal financial loss. “I am proud of her for standing by her oath.”
This store has been corrected to identify Chris Pielli's county position as Recorder of Deeds.