Saturday, May 15, 2010

Proposed Luzerne County Charter- A New Set of Problems

The proposed charter for Luzerne County government was unveiled yesterday according Mark Guydish of the Times Leader. Kingston Mayor James Haggerty is chairman of the commission charged with looking to reform Luzerne County's form of governing. According to sources who spoke with SOP Haggerty has been crafting his own spin on the document that appears to fall short of its true goal.

“In my personal view the biggest problem in Luzerne County is that political authority and day-to-day operations are both in the hands of the same few people,” Haggerty said, referring to the current system of electing three commissioners who often negotiate contracts and then approve them.

The proposed system would have 11 part-time council members elected to jobs that pay $8,000 a year who would in turn set policy, pass ordinances and approve budgets.

But council would appoint a full-time manager to run the county, who in turn would appoint people to do jobs currently handled by elected row officers. The charter as written expressly bars council members from getting involved in hiring and firing of employees, or negotiating contracts.

Therein lies the problem. If the manager was elected like the process in Allegheny County that person would not have to answer to the council members. Appointing a manager will not eliminate any of the issues listed above. If the manager knows that his/her job is dependent on the majority vote of the council then the issue of undue pressure will be ever present.

Wilkes University Political Science Professor Tom Baldino – a member of the government study commission that drew up a home rule charter rejected by voters in 2003 – was skeptical about the hired manager proposal, rather than having an elected executive.

“I’m still not convinced this is going to work the way you all envision,” Baldino said, warning that, because the manager would be hired by the council, he would be “beholden to the council” and thus not always act independently.

In looking at his outline of the proposal there are some significant issues.

To that end, he said:

• Having 11 part-time council members dilutes the ability of anyone to influence county business and allows more people to participate in the process. It requires council members to build coalitions and find consensus, and potentially allow a minority to get a larger say if council is divided and they hold the deciding votes.

Mr. Haggerty must live in a vacuum. Every school district in the state blows that theory skie high, higher than the oil plum in the gulf.

• Having elections every two years, with five council members up for election one time and six the next time, means the public has more opportunity to elect new members if voters disagree with actions taken by the council.

That scenario mirrors congressional races. The office holder is constantly running for election and at $8,000.00 per year fundraising efforts will drown out the common person and their vote.

Hazleton City Council President Joe Yannuzzi argued that county council members should be elected by district to assure the Hazleton area of a voice. Haggerty countered that the current system requires election of a “minority commissioner,” leaving the county for decades with two Democrats and one Republican on the commission, and asked “What has that done for Republicans? Haggerty, you didn't acknowledge the problem, you deflected it with your answer. Your like the Democrats who keep complaining about George Bush. He is the past, he is gone. The Home Rule Charter proposal means the system you are talking about will also be the past. So what are you going to do in the present about representation for a significant part of the county that is always second fiddle?

One final commnent. You should add one more row office called Director of Records similar to Allegheny County. To place all the control into the hands of one person simply breeds a different type of corruption. Mandate digital conversion of all records that would be available online. The Director of Records would be required to plan and execute that task. The efficiency associated with such a move would outweigh the initial investment.

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