The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners on Thursday continued to face questions regarding the recent dismissal of Joseph Passarella, the former long-time head of the county's Voter Services department, as the county's Republican committee pointed to his interim replacement's erstwhile role in a Democratic political committee as evidence of "Philadelphia-style political cronyism."
Passarella was dismissed April 17 after almost two decades in the post.
Commissioner Bruce Castor led off Thursday's meeting of the Board of Commissioners with a statement directly addressing the "public controversy," saying that he believed "everyone associated with this process has acted honorably and in the belief that they were doing what they thought best for the people of Montgomery County."
Castor did not say whether he personally agreed with the decision to terminate Passarella, whom he called "a fine man" and "personal friend." He said that fellow Commissioner Leslie Richards, in her capacity as chair of the county Election Board, "should be given great deference to carry out her executive duties" and that he supported "the notion that any two of the three of the commissioners may dismiss or transfer any employee under our jurisdiction with or without cause."
"I agree with those who advocate that the person eventually chosen must be politically above reproach so that both parties' officials, and all elected leaders and candidates, have confidence that they will be treated fairly and even-handedly," Castor said.
See Castor's complete remarks in this article's PDF section.
Passarella's position was temporarily filled on April 18 by Michael Paston, whom county spokesman Frank Custer described as "on loan from his position as archives and print shop manager."
The day after Paston's interim appointment, a political committee operated in support of Voter Services solicitor David Robinson filed paperwork with the Board of Elections to replace Paston as its chairperson. According to copies of Election Board records distributed to the media by the Montgomery County Republican Committee, the "Friends of David Robinson" committee was formed in July 2012 as Robinson sought the former state legislative office of Josh Shapiro, now chair of the county Board of Commissioners. Paston was appointed as the committee's inaugural chairperson.
The Montgomery County Republican Committee on Wednesday said the documents "demonstrate a crony-style relationship among the key personnel" of the Voter Services office.
Castor was unaware of Paston's PAC-related activities until Thursday, he said in a press conference following the meeting.
"I'm hearing this for the first time. I did not know this," Castor said after a reporter's question about Paston's political activities.
Richards said Thursday that there had been "over a dozen" applications received for the Director of Voter Services position, which she said would remain posted through Friday before Lauren Lambrugo, the county's chief operating officer, began reviewing the applicants. Richards said Thursday that she didn't know whether Paston was one of the applicants for the permanent position and that she did not expect to be involved in the interview process.
"I think David Robinson did the responsible thing as soon as he realized how we were moving forward," Richards said. "We decided about the interim director and then he immediately made sure that he replaced him."