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Updated 49 minutes ago
Westmoreland County's prison board on Monday voted to promote a current staff lieutenant to fill a soon-to-be vacated position of deputy warden.
But the decision to hire George Lowther came over objections from county Commissioner Gina Cerilli and Sheriff Jonathan Held, who said they favored an external candidate who would have taken the job for less money.
“There is no secret about my concern with the current prison management, and we had an excellent candidate from outside,” Cerilli said.
She and Held last year unsuccessfully attempted to have Warden John Walton fired, claiming he had failed to properly supervise staff and created ongoing management problems at the jail.
The other four prison board members opposed the effort to fire Walton, who has served as warden since 2003 and earns more than $81,000 a year.
Cerilli and Held claimed last summer that jail staff were under criminal investigation and for other unnamed internal improprieties. No criminal charges have been filed against Walton or any staffers.
A month later, Walton's management came under fire again after the jail improperly released an inmate due to a clerical error. That led to the suspension of a prison clerk.
Officials said Walton led the hiring process last month in which seven candidates were interviewed to replace Steven Cmar, who will retire in April. Cmar has served as deputy warden since 2003 and earns nearly $70,000 a year.
“The organization needs a fresh perspective,” said Held, who serves as chairman of the prison board.
Cerilli and Held said they favored a candidate who had recently retired from a series of jobs with the state's Department of Corrections and who agreed to accept an annual salary of $51,000.
Commissioners Ted Kopas and Charles Anderson and Controller Jeff Balzer voted to hire Lowther.
“He knows the ins and outs at the jail and can hit the ground running. He was recommended by the warden and, as long as we are supporting the warden, we need to give him the people to make it happen,” Anderson said.
Kopas also said he supported Lowther based on Walton's recommendation.
“He's the warden's pick, and he's earned this right,” Kopas said.
Lowther has worked at the county since 1993 and serves as a lieutenant in charge of training other jail staff. According to county payroll records, Lowther earned $49,000 last year.
Warden John Walton said Lowther is scheduled to earn $67,000 in his new role as deputy warden in charge of security at the county lockup.
The hiring is contingent on the county's salary board, which includes all three county commissioners and Balzer, to approve Lowther's pay. The salary board is scheduled to met in April.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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