Morelli says he will halt proposed ousting of Lawton if he confirms rumors the manager is resigning

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]



    Luzerne County Councilman Rick Morelli said he won’t ask his council colleagues to proceed with the termination of county Manager Robert Lawton tonight if he confirms chatter that Lawton is planning to submit his resignation Wednesday.

    “I feel strongly that the county has to move in a different direction and separate from him, but I’d rather he goes on his own,” Morelli said. “My intention is not to hurt him.”

    Reached at his courthouse office, Lawton declined to discuss his job plans.

    If the resignation can’t be confirmed, Morelli said he will present a proposal to oust Lawton, but he has altered it to a suspension.

    Morelli’s initial proposal 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.

    However, Morelli said he learned through a Times Leader news article that this proposal may conflict with the county’s home rule charter.

    The charter says the council may suspend the manager by resolution pending his removal — not terminate him outright. The resolution also must spell out reasons for the suspension and proposed removal, which is a requirement not met in Morelli’s initial proposal.

    Morelli’s revised resolution seeks the suspension of Lawton, effective immediately, “due to his lack of communication with County Council, his inability to properly administer the Luzerne County budget as well as not properly administering over the day-to-day activities of Luzerne County staff.”

    Lawton would continue to be compensated until the effective date of his removal and has a right under the charter to seek a public hearing regarding his suspension and pending removal within 15 days.

    If Lawton did not seek a hearing, the council would vote on his removal Dec. 15, Morelli’s new proposal says.

    Morelli sent his revised proposal to council colleagues in an email that reiterated his concerns that council members were kept in the dark about problems with county finances.

    “My decision here is solely based on what I feel is right for the county and has nothing to do personally with Mr. Lawton,” Morelli wrote.

    Tonight’s meeting, which starts at 6 p.m., also won’t be broadcast on Service Electric Cable or streamed live on the Video Innovations because it was moved from the council meeting room to the larger second floor jury room in the courthouse to accommodate an expected crowd, said Scott Cannon, of Video Innovations, who videos the meetings.

    Cannon said the equipment needed to provide the broadcast and streaming can’t be moved out of the council meeting room.

    Numerous county employees are expected to attend the meeting to urge the council to take action to prevent mass layoffs, service cuts and defaulting on a debt repayment over $22 million in delayed state reimbursements stemming from the state budget impasse.

    The administration has proposed a $20 million loan, but a similar loan proposal was rejected by a council majority last week.

    The council meeting room seats about 50.


    By Jennifer Learn-Andes

    [email protected]

    Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

    Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

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