WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Councilman Rick Morelli has formally requested a vote to terminate Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“It is with my deepest regrets that I ask you to attach the following resolution to the agenda for this upcoming council voting meeting,” Morelli wrote.
His proposed resolution would remove Lawton as manager immediately and provide him with two week’s severance pay in addition to any compensation he is owed for unused sick or vacation days.
Morelli’s emailed request to the council chair said Lawton has done “many good things” for county government over the past few years.
“He has taken on a huge task in being the first county manager of this new home rule government and tried his best with only his best intentions in trying to help the citizens of Luzerne County,” Morelli wrote.
The manager position is “challenging,” he wrote, noting Lawton inherited many problems he did not “create.”
“Bob has a lot to be proud of and has done a lot of good while consistently taking on a lot of unfair criticism from people who I believe do not have the best interest of this government,” he wrote.
Morelli said he believes the county and Lawton are “at a place where it is time to move on.”
“This is a very tough decision for me to make but in the best interest of the county and where I feel we need to be. It’s the type of decision that I knew I would have to make when I ran for this position,” he wrote.
Morelli had said earlier this week he was confident seven county council members are now willing to terminate Lawton if he does not resign.
Seven votes — a majority plus one — are required to terminate the manager under the county’s home rule charter.
Morelli said Lawton should have informed the council months ago that the entire county government operation was at risk because money needed for debt repayments and payroll was being tapped to keep human service branches operating during the still-ongoing state budget impasse.
“Two months ago, we were told everything was fine, and the administration was asking for raises,” Morelli said earlier this week.
Council members Edward Brominski, Kathy Dobash, Eileen Sorokas, Stephen A. Urban and Stephen J. Urban have repeatedly called for Lawton ’s termination.
Morelli did not identify the other council member who may vote for termination.
Lawton’s recent decision to reactivate his job search prompted the council to proceed with creation of an outside committee that will recruit, screen and recommend manager applicants to the council. At least nine citizens have applied to serve on this unpaid committee.
Lawton is out of town on prearranged personal business and has declined to elaborate. Lawton said Thursday he is in “constant contact” with the administration working on options to prevent a county shutdown. A council majority rejected the borrowing of $20 million to compensate for delays in $22 million in state reimbursements due to the state budget impasse.
Sources say Lawton is on a job interview.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.