WEST CHESTER — Chester County’s elected fiscal watchdog has asked the judge overseeing the attempt to recoup more than $67,000 in salary overtime payments from former county Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh to throw out Welsh’s appeal, saying she failed to meet legal requirements tied to the proceeding against her.
A hearing on county Controller Margaret Reif’s petition to set aside Welsh’s appeal of her “surcharge” action involving the overtime payments made to Welsh’s live-in boyfriend, Harry McKinney, is set for Wednesday in the county Justice Center before Senior Judge Joseph Madenspacher of Lancaster County.
The motion cites language within the state law governing such surcharge actions requiring that those appealing the actions file both a $1,000 bond and a separate fiscal guarantee — called a “surety” — that would cover the costs for the Controller’s Office to defend the appeal, including attorney’s fees.
Although she did post the $1,000 when she appealed the surcharge action in August, the popular former sheriff made no provision for the required surety, according to the motion to dismiss the appeal filed by attorney Anthony Verwey, the solicitor for the Controller’s Office. That surety could have come from either an individual without an interest in the case, or a private company that would insure the costs were paid should Welsh’s appeal fail.
“The surety serves to insure payment for the prosecution of an appeal and the costs of the appeal,” Verwey, of the West Chester law firm of Gawthrop Greenwood, wrote in his request to have Welsh’s appeal dismissed. “(Welsh) made no provision for, filed, or even mentioned surety” in her appeal or the bond she posted.
In response, Welsh contends that the $1,000 bond she posted when she appealed the case meets the requirements of a “surety,” and that Reif’s objections should be dismissed. In his response, attorney William Gallahgher of the law firm of MacElree Harvey, representing Welsh, noted that the money that Welsh put up for the bond was more than enough to pay whatever costs are incurred in the surcharge case, should Reif be successful.
In addition, Gallagher said, the surety Verwey seeks is nothing more than a promise to pay. “(Welsh) posted a cash bond, which guaranteed the available funds required by the statute,” he wrote. “Cash is the ultimate surety.”
Should Reif be successful at getting the appeal of her surcharge action set aside, it would mean that Welsh would be liable to repay the county $67,335.25 for overtime payments that McKinney claimed for care of the dogs he owned when he was the supervisor of the county Sheriff’s Office’s K-9 Unit. Should her dismissal attempt fail, the action will proceed towards a scheduled trial date in April.
In the surcharge action, the Controller’s Office has contended that not only were the overtime requests made by McKinney and approved by Welsh in violation of the county policy concerning K-9 care and grooming, but that they were excessive. The requests were normally for about 10 hours per week, but sometimes as high as 23 hours for one day.
According to the report of overtime payments made to McKinney conducted by the Controller’s Office, beginning in 2016, the longtime deputy was paid several times more in overtime than he had been in previous years. He was paid $20,014 in overtime in 2016, $27,368 in 2017, and $19,951 in 2018 on top of a base salary of $61,347. In 2015, he was paid just $3,722 in overtime.
No other K-9 handler is paid regular overtime for care of their dog, in accordance with a policy put in place in 2014 by former Chief Deputy Sheriff George March that determined such activity was a part of a deputy’s normal work day. They are currently permitted to spend 30 minutes of their work day for canine care, plus one hour on the weekend. If they work more than 40 hours in a week, the K-9 handlers are entitled to one hour of overtime, according to Reif.
McKinney, who had worked for the county since 1985 and was hired to work in the Sheriff’s Office in 2008 after he began a relationship with Welsh in 2003, was dismissed from the office by incoming Sheriff Fredda Maddox in January — with Maddox saying she wanted to remove the “shadow” of the problematic relationship in the office between McKinney and Welsh, who own a home together in Pennsbury.
McKinney supervised the K-9 unit he formed in 2009 and which numbered about a dozen officers at its peak, even though he was classified as the lowest rank of deputy sheriff available, DS-1. In her office’s report, Reif suggested that McKinney had been kept at the DS-1 grade so as to allow him to collect overtime, something he would not have been entitled to as an office supervisor. Despite the low grade, McKinney had none of the assignments that other such deputies perform, such as courtroom security or prisoner transfer.
Madenspacher was called to hear the matter after the county’s Common Pleas judges were recused because of their possible conflicts of interest with the Sheriff’s Office's courthouse security duties.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.