With Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold the Republican nominee to fill the seat for the 48th State Senatorial District, the possible ensuing vacancy in the district attorney’s office was addressed at this week’s Lebanon County Commissioners meeting.
In September, State Senator Mike Folmer resigned from the 48th seat after being arrested on charges of child pornography filed by the state Attorney General’s office. Arnold will face Democratic candidate Michael Schroeder in a Jan. 14 special election to replace Folmer.
At the Lebanon County Commissioners meeting on Thursday, and previewed by way of a letter to the commissioners dated Nov. 18, Arnold released the names of new choices for First Assistant District Attorney and Part-Time Assistant District Attorney.
In the letter, Arnold outlined what he termed a “temporary change” in status for Pier Hess and Nichole Eisenhart. The change would become permanent if Arnold does not end up being elected to the Senate. (Read the full letter below.)
Hess, currently Part-Time Asst. DA, will have her position changed to First Asst. DA with no benefits.
Nichole Eisenhart’s status will be changed from First Asst. DA to Part-Time Asst. DA, maintaining her current benefits.
The salaries of both Hess and Eisenhart would remain the same.
Arnold’s selections came with some controversy. Dan Sidelnick, chairman of the Lebanon County Democratic Committee, said that placing Eisenhart into the Part-Time Asst. DA position appears to be a demotion.
Sidelnick attended the commissioners meeting to voice his concerns about Arnold’s choices.
“I’m not sure if this decision is ethical or legal,” Sidelnick said.
Jamie Wolgemuth, county administrator, said the commissioners do not make hiring decisions for offices of people who have been elected to their position.
Wolgemuth said that it falls to elected officials to fill his or her department with selected personnel. The commissioners essentially acknowledge any status changes and confirm human resources-related matters like salaries and benefits, but don’t hire when it comes to filling out an elected office.
Sidelnick also noted that Eisenhart is a Democrat and Arnold is a Republican, and asked if that had any bearing on the employment status change.
“What was the reason for making the changes?,” Sidelnick asked. “It seems like a demotion.”
Commissioner Bill Ames explained the change in status as he saw it.
“Initially, there was a presentation that would have meant a $15,000 increase in annual salary (in the DA’s office),” Ames said. “It’s pretty much our responsibility to set salaries, so HR and our office worked with the DA to find a salary we were comfortable with.”
If Arnold is elected this coming January, the change in status would elevate Pier Hess to District Attorney, a promotion that would have otherwise gone to Eisenhart.
It would also then fall to Hess to fill the First Asst. DA position with an individual of her own choice.
Arnold wrote that he anticipates Eisenhart would be appointed back to First Asst. DA if he wins the senatorial election and Hess becomes DA.
If Arnold does not win the election, Arnold would retain his role as DA and the change in status for both Hess and Eisenhart would become permanent.
After the vote accepting the full slate of personnel transactions as announced by Lebanon County Human Resources Director Michelle Edris, Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said she rescinded her “aye” vote and wanted the vote retaken.
“I retract my ‘yes’ vote; I misspoke and I’m changing it to a ‘no,’ “Litz said.
“The situation with the DA’s solution is troubling to me and I, in good conscience have to vote no,” Litz said. “She (Eisenhart) has been to commissioners meetings and conducted herself quite well. I don’t see any reason to demote her to second and promote someone else; it doesn’t seem right.”
The vote to approve the changed positions passed two to one, with Ames and Commissioner Bob Phillips voting in the affirmative. After this article was first published, some LebTown commenters pointed out that Phillips also serves as chair of the Friends of Dave Arnold CPC and questioned whether this was a conflict of interest.
The acting campaign manager for the Arnold campaign, Edward W. Lynch Jr., rejected these claims, noting that the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission defines conflicts of interest as an individual’s use of a political office for personal benefit or to benefit a family member, or a business with which they are involved. “It is very clear based upon the definition above, as established by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that there was no conflict of interest in Commissioner Phillips vote yesterday,” said Lynch.
Asked by the Lebanon Daily News about the decision, Arnold said it was driven by, “a belief that attorney Hess will be able to display the leadership to move us forward as an office.”
“I don’t want anybody to take this as any kind of negative against attorney Eisenhart. She has truly been a fantastic coworker, a fantastic employee, and a fantastic advocate for Lebanon County,” Arnold told the Daily News.
In other business, commissioners signed off on the county’s first foray into a new energy-saving building financing program called “PA – C-PACE,” or Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy.
The commissioners approved an energy-efficient C-PACE project in the form of a new hotel along Route 72 in Jonestown, at address 3068-3078.
The program stems from Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2018 signing of a bill granting authority to local governments to establish a Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy Program.
C-PACE programs provide county officials the ability to make available low-cost, long term third-party financing for energy-efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation projects. Financing for eligible projects can cover up to 100 percent of total costs. The program does not include residential homes. No county funds will be contributed to the project, Wolgemuth said.
The anticipated “Holiday Inn Express” will have an estimated project cost of $1,200,000 and will be a 51,286-ft. property located off the exit at Interstate 81 in Jonestown.
Total construction and land cost will be close to $10 million, and the builders are asking for a loan request of $8,572,974.
The hotel would include a breakfast dining area, indoor pool, fitness room, lobby workstation, market pantry, guest laundry room, and 88 parking spaces.
No start date for construction has been released as yet.
Holly Edinger, a representative of MAHG, LLC, consulted with the commissioners and provided information on the program.
In another matter, Dan Lyons of the Lebanon County Redevelopment Authority requested the commissioners’ approval to move forward with the purchase of two houses in the city for the Redevelopment Authority’s land bank.
The properties are a semi-detached, vacant row home at 1130 Buttonwood St., between 11th and 12th streets, and another vacant house at 20 S. 11th Street.
The Buttonwood house was last sold in 1976, has been vacant for a few years, and comes with delinquent taxes for the past two years.
It is significantly deteriorated, Lyons said.
The 11th Street house is also dilapidated and will need substantial rehab, Lyons said.
The Redevelopment Authority has a grant from the Pennsylvania Health and Finance Agency, Lyons said, in order to pay for the acquisition and rehabilitation of the homes.
“If we can buy these properties and rehabilitate them, it will stabilize the block and stem the tide of blight in the area,” Lyons said.
Commissioner Litz voted against the property acquisitions.
“It isn’t any secret that I’m not in favor of the land bank,” Litz said. “It’s an added layer of bureaucracy…we have Habitat for Humanity in the city; they renovate homes and they also coach new home owners.
“By the county taking on the properties, there are a couple of issues that trouble me, including liability and the question of eminent domain, “Litz said.
Litz was referring to a city resident who had lived in the 11th Street property with her sister. The sister died and the woman moved away, but the fact remains, Litz said, that the woman who moved will not be getting any money for the property if the city buys it.
The motion passed, with Litz the lone dissenter.
Arnold Letter to Commissioners
November 18, 2019
I am writing to advise you of a temporary change in status for Pier Hess and Nichole Eisenhart. Pier Hess shall be changed from PT ADA (higher hours) receiving no benefits, to First Assistant District Attorney with no benefits. Nichole Eisenhart shall be changed from First Assistant District Attorney with benefits, to PT ADA (higher hours) maintaining her current benefits. These temporary changes shall take effect November 4, 2019, with the two named employees’ respective salaries remaining unchanged.
As you know, I am a candidate for the State Senate vacancy in the 48th State Senatorial District. If I am elected, these changes of status would result in Pier Hess becoming District Attorney and having the ability to fill the 1st Assistant District Attorney on her own. At that time, I’m anticipating that Nichole Eisenhart would be appointed back into the 1st Assistant DA position with benefits, and the PT ADA position would be filled without benefits. Should I not become Senator, the change in status for both Pier Hess and Nichole Eisenhart will become permanent at that time.
Thank you for your attention and consideration. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
David J. Arnold, Jr.
Read More LebTown Coverage of the Special Election
AG charges State Sen. Mike Folmer with possession of child pornography (Sept. 18)
State Sen. Mike Folmer resigns, vacancy to be filled with special election (Sept. 18)
Election to fill Folmer state senate vacancy set for January 14, 2020 (Sept. 25)
Candidates begin hunt for nomination in 48th Senatorial District special election (Oct. 4)
GOP hopefuls make their pitch to Lebanon County conferees (Oct. 14)
Dave Arnold will be GOP nominee for 48th Senatorial District special election (Oct. 19)
Michael Schroeder named Democratic candidate for special election (Oct. 20)
Who steps in as county DA if Arnold wins state senate campaign? (Oct. 29)
Arnold announces pause from SD-48 campaign trail following surgery (Nov. 4)
Michael Schroeder to hold campaign kickoff in Annville Town Square Saturday (Nov. 21)
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. The Lebanon County Democratic Committee was an advertiser on LebTown during the previous election cycle. The campaign of Dave Arnold for State Senate is a current advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.
This article has been updated to address reader comments we received regarding Phillips’ vote in yesterday’s personnel business.