WILKES-BARRE — Martin “Marty” Moughan was two weeks shy of his 20th birthday and a recent Wilkes-Barre Business School graduate in January 1976 when someone suggested he apply for a position with new Luzerne County Controller Joseph Tirpak.
Moughan wasn’t politically active but gave it a shot. Tirpak was impressed with his associate’s degree and knowledge of bookkeeping and hired him on the spot as part of his new team.
Forty years and more than a dozen elected and interim controllers later, Moughan is still working in the office.
“It’s really surreal,” said Moughan. “There’s something new here every day. It never gets old.”
While county officials have been wrestling with the loss of institutional knowledge and the exodus of several veteran employees in recent years, not all with decades of seniority have left.
Moughan is among 20 workers with hiring dates spanning from February 1967 to April 1979, according to the county’s seniority list.
Children and Youth caseworker supervisor Judi Newman holds the distinction as the most veteran county employee.
Like Moughan, she is proud of her work and wants to accomplish more before she moves on. Her drive at the moment is recruiting more foster families because the supply isn’t meeting the demand for homes.
“We’re in desperate need for families to step forward that can take a variety of ages and numbers of children,” Newman said. “I feel very committed to building our foster parents.”
41 years in the same office
Alfonso Pellegrini, known to many as “Al,” recently marked his 41st anniversary with the county prothonotary’s office.
He’s now working under his eighth boss and has witnessed striking changes over the years.
Staff cuts are one example. He wholeheartedly supported some reductions at first.
“We should never go back to the old system, where people just came and got paychecks and left early for the day. That was ridiculous and happened when I first started,” he said.
But he now believes the county has gone too far.
“Generally, in many offices now, there are too few of us to do a decent job to serve the public,” Pellegrini said. “Many offices are at such a bare minimum. There needs to be a righting of the ship.”
Technology also improved efficiency, eliminating the need for bulky, 25-pound docket books.
“When I first started, most of our work was done by pen — not quill,” he said. “My handwriting is going to live on in history because it’s all over those dockets.”
The county had no protection-from-abuse cases when Pellegrini started, and today his office handles an “extraordinary” quantity of paperwork from such filings.
“It’s an example of how things have changed,” he said.
Moughan’s first assignment was as a controller clerk stationed at the former county Valley Crest Nursing Home in Plains Township reconciling monthly welfare stipends by hand for nearly 400 residents. By the time he finished one month’s processing, it was about time to start the next, he said.
In the late 1980s, he started operating the first controller’s office computer, which generated checks to pay bills so several clerks didn’t have to keep loading blank checks into manual Underwriter typewriters.
He enjoys his current role poring over financial records for audits.
“I take this very seriously,” he said. “I want to make things right. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things.”
Moughan said he embraces opportunities to share wisdom he’s picked up over the decades while keeping an open mind about learning something new from the next generation.
He chuckles while recalling a new employee in his 20s who learned the office auditor had been working there long before he was born.
“I think he expected to walk in and see a doddering old man with a cane who said, ‘Don’t tell me how to do my work, sonny,’” Moughan said.
He is thinking of retiring in September and is not sure what he’ll do with his memorabilia, including a nail file from Tirpak’s campaign and a set of the binoculars the sometimes theatrical late Steve Flood gave to employees so they could perform a “Flood Watch.”
His prized possession is in a box: a glass eye bequeathed from former coworker Joe Stabodzian, who found it in his desk when the office was located in the county courthouse before moving to the Penn Place building.
“I have no idea who I’m going to give it to,” Moughan said. “There’s got to be a story of why the hell somebody left an eye. Who forgets that?”
Pellegrini tries to shrug off the negative image of county government workers.
“The bottom line is I will always do the best job I can possibly do. They will always get 100 percent effort from me. That’s within my nature and character.”
He also believes most, if not all, of his veteran colleagues “suffer from” the same work ethic drilled into him since he was a child.
“We are old school in the best of what that means,” he said.
Moughan said he and many colleagues “put their heart and soul into what they’re doing.”
“I don’t think anybody ever treated me poorly because of it, but I don’t hang out with perfect strangers whose sport is beating up on county employees,” he said. “I’m really proud of my service.”
While Children and Youth’s recent struggles with a license downgrade and staffing issues have hurt the agency’s morale, Newman said she never lost focus of the need to find the best options for children removed from homes due to alleged abuse and neglect.
“I wake up in the morning looking forward to the challenges of the day and problem solving,” she said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.