On Friday morning at the county courthouse, I conducted an exclusive interview with Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Mantura Gallagher. Mrs. Gallagher requested my time because she took issue with parts of my recent article concerning the alleged fraud of custody conciliation officer Lynn Bressi and perceived diversionary tactics by Gallagher and Pottsville Republican and Herald publisher Henry Nyce. In the interest of fairness, I agreed to print Gallagher’s “clarifications” to allow the readers to decide for themselves what really happened.
Before getting to the interview, I just wanted to express my appreciation to Commissioner Gallagher for reaching out to me and wanting to tell her side to the story, instead of having family members send threatening e-mails to myself and my family, like some other public officials did. She was very candid and answered most of my questions straightforwardly with class and dignity.
Its not a secret that I had a lot of respect for Mrs. Gallagher before today because of my family’s relationship with hers and because of my dealings with her husband Jim. After today, I respect her even more. The questions posed below were not necessarily asked or answered in this order. We had a 45-minute conversation and bounced around quite a lot, but I placed it in this order for you to better follow along.
CLARKE REPORT: Thank you for inviting me here today, Commissioner. What can I do for you?
MANTURA GALLAGHER: Since I entered public life, I have made it a point not to usually read things on the internet like The Green Screen, The Purple Page, and other sites, because I know that I will want to reply to inaccurate stories, gossip, and rumors. However, I broke my own policy when your story was brought to my attention because you called into question my integrity and actually accused me of a criminal act . . . trying to cover-up the Lynn Bressi matter.
CLARKE REPORT: Well, to be clear Commissioner, I never accused you of using your office to faciliate a cover-up. I merely stated my opinion that because of your past run ins with [Schuylkill County Controller] Melinda Kantner and your friendship with Lynn Bressi and Henry Nyce, that I believe you were attempting to divert public attention away from the scandal for political purposes.
GALLGHER: You called it a cover-up.
CR: No, I pondered the question of whether the act of not referring the case to the Attorney General and instead giving it to the Pottsville PD, who doesn’t have jurisdiction here, is an attempt at a cover-up. Regardless, let’s get down to the facts of my story.
**Editor’s Note: According to today’s Pottsville Republican, the Bressi case has finally been officially turned over to Attorney General Tom Corbit.
CR: Are you friends with Lynn Bressi and do you play cards with her?
GALLAGHER: I play bridge, not poker, once a week with a few other professional, high profile women. Lynn used to play with us bi-weekly, but since this happened, she has not come back.
CR: Have your spoke with her since the story broke?
GALLAGHER: Only once in a parking lot. She tried to convince me that she did not do what she was accused of. However, I had already seen the evidence for myself. But before getting into all of that, I want to make a few things clear to you and your readers. My office has no jurisdiction in this matter. Lynn was employed by the courts, which is overseen by Bill Baldwin [Court of Common Pleas President Judge William Baldwin]. The only thing the Commissioners have to do with the courts is that we approve their yearly budget. All personnel decisions and the day to day operations go through Bill and his staff at Court Administration. So, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I had no say in the investigation or the decision to terminate Lynn. I was notified as a courtesy by Bill when the investigation was concluded and the decision was made to let her go. However, as a point of fact, she was not fired. She resigned in lieu of termination.
CR: So, are you not disputing the allegations of fraud on the part of Ms. Bressi?
GALLAGHER: Well, its not my place to. I and the other commissioners were merely given a heads up as a courtesy. We were not involved in this at all.
CR: And I believe I made that very clear in my article, too. However, my issue was with how quickly after this story broke you and the Republican switched gears to the Kantner late rental payment, when this is a very important story to the taxpayers of Schuylkill County. We are talking about allegations of a public official stealing money!
GALLAGHER: If you have issues with the Republican’s coverage, you need to talk to them.
CR: Aren’t you friends with Nyce?
GALLAGHER: We went to school together. I occassionally socialize with him, yes.
CR: So then, can you explain the disparity in coverage? On one hand, you have allegations of fraud by a public official, someone who is your friend, that leads to her dismissal. That story garners a 50-word, below the fold, barely visible story with two 35-word follow-ups. That night, you bring up the late rent payment at the Commissioner’s meeting, which leads to a banner headline, 700-word, half page article, that leads the local news on page 3 the following day. Do you see where people might scratch their heads?
GALLAGHER: Again, I had nothing to do with that. You have to understand, this courthouse is in a standstill financially. Its not just me that has problems with Melinda Kanter, its most of this courthouse. Did you know she has held up payment to court-appointed conflict attorneys because we don’t have official contracts with each individual? That is ridiculous. 17 lawyers are not getting paid for work already completed because she thinks we have to have contracts with each and every one of them before they get paid!
CR: I am one of them, I just haven’t submitted any invoices lately.
GALLAGHER: I wouldn’t be counting on that money anytime soon.
CR: Ugh. That was going to be my Christmas money.
GALLAGHER: We brought up the late rent payment because now her actions are not only affecting individuals, it is costing the taxpayers money, ruining the county’s credit, and souring our relationship with vendors. We thought the people had the right to know. In addition, that brings up another one of the inaccuracies of your article. Your timeline was completely wrong.
CR: How so?
GALLAGHER: The rent payment was not due on the 1st, it was due on the 5th. That invoice was in Kantner’s office on September 29th and had plenty of time to be processed.
CR: That is not what the Republican said. I took my time line directly from Ben Wolfgang’s article.
GALLAGHER: I know. He got it wrong, too. And I told him about it afterward.
CR: So, is it your contention that at no time did you ever discuss pushing the Kantner story over the Bressi story to Henry Neese?
GALLAGHER: I swear . . . . I NEVER talked with Henry about the Bressi matter, ever.
**Editor’s Note: Please notice, how she did not fully answer the question.
CR: Let’s get back to Bressi. You said earlier that my article had other inaccuracies.
GALLAGHER: Yes. Now, again, the information I have about the investigation is not personal knowledge. What I know was told to me by Bill Baldwin. After reading your article, Bill called me and asked “where does this man get his information?”
CR: Why would he say that?
GALLAGHER: Because what he explained to me was completely different from what you reported. He said that he had received complaints from attorneys about excessive continuances in matters in front of Bressi. So, he tasked his staff with looking into if this was happening and trying to find out why. When they reviewed the invoices, cross-checked them with other court documents, and conducted interviews with the attorneys in some of the involved cases, they found that she was double billing the county. Melinda Kantner had NOTHING to do with the investigation. It was all Judge Baldwin and his staff. The only thing she ever did was provide billing records to Ben Wolfgang when he requested them for his story.
**Editor’s Note: Melinda Kantner was NOT my primary source for this article. My primary source works for a prominent local law firm who was involved with reporting on Bressi’s conduct and told me specifically that the Controller’s office had conducted an audit and reported the findings to Judge Baldwin. I talked to Kantner after the first source gave me all the info, to corroborate what he/she said. Kantner’s story matched up almost perfectly with my primary source. The source does not know Kantner personally and does not work with/for her. That is why I ran the story. I explained this to Mrs. Gallagher.
GALLAGHER: What infuraited a lot of people was that she was claiming credit for something she never even knew about and you believed her!
CR: That is only because I had a source saying the same thing.
GALLAGHER: You have to understand. She is a grandstander. If she really had uncovered this, don’t you think her first phone call would have been to the media and not Bill Baldwin?
CR: I asked her that question specifically, because I too had found that to be a bit unlike her. However, she explained that she that Bressi was different because it involved a criminal investigation and the possibility of someone going to jail. She said that it would be inappropriate for the primary investigator to be going public before the police completed their own investigation.
GALLAGHER: And you believed that? This is a woman who spends her days conducting audits that she is not empowered to complete in an effort to play “gotcha” with her political enemies. The only two audits she has done this year were over cell phone usage and vehicles, both of which she has no authority to do.
CR: Why? That’s her job.
GALLAGHER: The county code says that the Controller only completes audits at the request of the Commissioners. We did not authorize any of those audits. She was merely rummuging through records trying to catch one of us doing something wrong so that she could run to the papers.
Now you have both sides of the story. You decide.