Cumberland Times-News

February 11, 2014

County employee remains on paid leave

Action result of use of vulgarities at Dec. 5 commission meeting

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — A county employee is entering his third month on taxpayer-funded paid leave after he offended county officials by using a vulgar word to make his point during an Allegany County Commission meeting on Dec. 5. Kevin Shaffer was placed on administrative leave by the county the next day.

County officials confirmed Tuesday that Shaffer remains on leave, but didn’t offer further comment or response to other questions.

“Mr. Shaffer remains on a paid leave status. He has retained an attorney, with whom we are currently in discussions. I believe that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this time,” was the response offered by Brian Westfall, the county’s director of human resources. Shaffer is a longtime county employee.

County officials have said an investigation of Shaffer’s actions at the Dec. 5 meeting was in progress. At least one citizen at the meeting was later questioned by law enforcement about her recollections of the event. The Times-News requested information about the status of the investigation and whether any charges had been filed against Shaffer. The newspaper also asked the length of time Shaffer would remain on leave and how much Shaffer had been paid while on leave, along with his yearly salary. County officials did not respond to those questions.

Shaffer said he’s meeting with his attorney later this week and preferred to defer comment until after that meeting.

Shaffer ended up on leave after using two variations of the “F” word during the Dec. 5 commission meeting while making comments during the public comment period open to all citizens. The topic of Shaffer’s comments was on commissioners’ refusal to aid the Western Maryland Food Bank, which then shifted into a dialogue over past disagreements.

Commission president Mike McKay gaveled the meeting to a close after Shaffer used the word a second time. Shaffer was speaking as a private citizen and has tangled with commissioners before.

“I have asked you not to use that word,” McKay said after Shaffer’s first use of the word in question. Commission rules allow members of the public an initial five minutes to speak. They may request another five minutes after other speakers have finished. The time limits are rarely enforced and the time calculation becomes difficult because commissioners often interrupt speakers to engage in a dialogue or dispute what the individual is saying. It was unclear how many minutes Shaffer spoke before being interrupted by commissioner comments and then the meeting being ended by McKay.

The next day, Shaffer was placed on paid administrative leave until further notice by the county. Shaffer said that day he was greeted by security staff and told he was wanted for a meeting in a conference room. Shaffer said that his supervisor, Jason Bennett, county finance chief; County Administrator David Eberly; County Attorney Bill Rudd; and Brian Westfall were at the meeting along with a security officer. The meeting consisted of Eberly reading a letter to Shaffer. The letter told Shaffer he was being put on leave with full pay and benefits to permit an investigation, according to Shaffer.

“We expect your full cooperation with this investigation,” the letter, signed by Eberly, reads. “Until further notice, you are not to return to the County Office Complex until told to do so,” the letter continues. Shaffer said security staff then escorted him from the building.

“It’s not a good thing for the taxpayers,” Shaffer said of the leave with pay at the time.

Early in his term as a commissioner, McKay had assured Shaffer that he would not be removed from a meeting, as had occurred in a meeting during the tenure of previous commissioners. That incident in 2006 led to Shaffer being arrested. A misdemeanor charge against Shaffer for failing to obey a lawful order was eventually dismissed.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.