Gracedale Nursing Home drone generic

EASTON, Pa. - Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure issued his third veto of the week on Thursday, rejecting county council's plan for a study of Gracedale nursing home.

Council voted Sept. 15 to seek bids for a study of the operations of the Upper Nazareth Township facility. The move did not commit any money.

Gracedale suffered a staff shortage during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and is operating well below its 688-resident capacity.

Thursday's executive action marks a veto trifecta for McClure. Earlier this week, he "returned," in government terminology, ordinances to raise the pay of the next executive and to seek bids for a study of compensation for county employees.

Studying the county home for the aged and infirm would be a waste of money, the executive said in a statement.

"Gracedale Nursing Home is the most regulated of all Northampton County's departments, subjected to constant inspections and audits," he said. "There is no reason to assume that an operational study will turn up any deficiencies which haven't already been investigated and addressed."

McClure said Gracedale's rating on overall quality has increased, and in May, council approved his "Saving Gracedale Again" plan by directing $15 million of federal COVID-19 pandemic aid to recruit and keep staff, and make capital improvements.

A daycare center will be added as part of the plan to keep employees.

The "Again" in the name of the plan refers to the decision made years ago not to sell the home.

"Council should allow some time to see how these incentives improve operations at Gracedale," McClure's statement concluded.

Council voted 8-0 on Sept. 15 in favor of seeking bids for a study. The county's legislative body can pass an ordinance with five votes, and needs six votes to overturn a veto. Voting in favor that day were Council President Lori Vargo Heffner, Vice President Kerry Myers, Thomas Giovanni, John Cusick, John Goffredo, John Brown, Ron Heckman and Tara Zrinski. Kevin Lott was absent.

Northampton County Council to seek bids for pay study, review of Gracedale operations

Vargo Heffner said Thursday that council's job is provide oversight of county operations, and she said employee morale at Gracedale and in other departments is a concern.

For the veto to be sustained, McClure will need at least three commissioners (members of council are known as commissioners) to switch to a "no" vote, depending on how Lott votes. Council will vote Oct. 6 on the veto, Vargo Heffner said.

On Wednesday, McClure vetoed council's plan to seek bids for a study of compensation of county employees. He said most of the 2,000 staff members are represented by unions, and that unlike many private sector workers, they get a pension and benefits.

Northampton County executive vetoes plan for pay study, citing data 'skewed' by pandemic

That study proposal also passed 8-0 on Sept. 15, again meaning multiple votes would have to change for the veto to stand up.

County managers have told council that they are having difficulty filling positions, Vargo Heffner said. The county operates several around-the-clock operations. Jobs in juvenile justice, at Gracedale and at the Northampton County Prison, among others, are difficult, and the county needs to compensate employees fairly and do its best to keep workers happy, she said.

Commissioner Ron Heckman said a study is no guarantee of changes in work conditions or pay. He said expectations of the results of a study may not match the reality.

The first veto went out on Tuesday, when McClure returned a plan to raise the salary of the next county executive to $105,000 from $85,000. That would take effect Jan. 1, 2026, after McClure's second term. The raise would not apply to him unless he seeks and wins a third term.

Northampton County Executive McClure vetoes ordinance that would raise successor's pay 23%

Council members who favored the raise said an executive who is in charge of a half-billion-dollar budget and the county staff should be paid more to ensure good candidates run for the office.

That bill passed by just 6-2, so only one or two votes, again depending on Lott's decision, would have to change to sustain the veto.

Scroll down for comments if available