After four months as acting head, C. David Pedri was appointed to Luzerne County’s top management post Tuesday as a crowd of workers stood and applauded.
Seven of 11 county council members voted for Pedri’s appointment as manager at a salary of $120,000: Eugene Kelleher, Rick Williams, Harry Haas, Jane Walsh Waitkus, Tim McGinley, Robert Schnee and Eileen Sorokas.
No votes came from Edward Brominski, Linda McClosky Houck, Stephen A. Urban and Kathy Dobash.
Brominski, Urban and Dobash were highly critical of the appointment and walked out of the meeting after the vote in protest, though Brominski later returned for a public hearing on a proposed blight committee and work session.
Pedri, who earned $90,000 as chief county solicitor, will receive $10,000 more than Robert Lawton, who was the first permanent manager under the county’s customized home rule government structure implemented in January 2012. Pedri also will receive a 2 percent raise in both 2017 and 2018 under an agreement approved by the seven.
The council interviewed two finalists furnished by an outside citizen manager search committee required by the home rule charter — Pedri, of Butler Township, and Jeffrey D. Beck, of Mountain Top.
David W. Johnston, of Washington, the third initial finalist supplied by the search committee, withdrew, saying he was pursuing other opportunities.
Pedri has been serving as acting county manager since January, following Lawton’s Dec. 31 resignation. Pedri previously ran a private family law practice and worked as deputy county district attorney.
Many workers have praised Pedri’s efforts to understand and support their work, rebuild morale, speed up decision-making, fill vacant positions and establish clear goals.
Beck also had received some community support, particularly for his financial background. He has a master’s degree in business administration, owned a cleaning franchise company and previously had served as president and board director of Advanta Bank Corp.
Beck did not attend Tuesday’s meeting and issued this statement:
“While I am disappointed that I was not chosen to be the manager of Luzerne County, I have every confidence that the new manager, Mr. Pedri, will implement the dozens of the initiatives contained in the county’s 2015 financial plan to address operational deficiencies. This action will result in a significant positive financial impact for all of us as residents and taxpayers in Luzerne County. I wish Mr. Pedri the best, and support county council as these initiatives are implemented.”
Pedri said he was “humbled” by the council’s confidence in him and thanked employees for their support.
“There are going to be some tough days ahead,” he said. “Let’s get to work.”
Pedri said after the meeting he will strive to work with all council members, regardless of whether they supported his appointment.
McClosky Houck, the council chair, said she voted against the appointment because she “was not convinced” the search process should stop.
The citizen search committee received 14 applications, and a committee member had said none rose to a ranking of high or superior qualification.
“We had an extremely limited number of applicants,” McClosky Houck said. “This is a difficult job. We have a lot of problems in the county.”
Schnee said he made the motion to appoint Pedri “with great pride.”
Kelleher rattled off a list of reasons Pedri is “highly trained to assume the position,” saying Pedri is: credible, competent, committed to being a good leader, intimately familiar with the home rule charter and operations, leads by example, readily accessible and “very adept” at conflict resolution.
“He is an excellent facilitator, mediator and negotiator. He’s very enthusiastic. He loves this county and is a resident of this county,” Kelleher said.
Walsh Waitkus said Pedri demonstrated he has “great ideas” as acting manager.
“I really believe this is the beginning of a new day for this county,” she said. “He has my full confidence.”
Williams said he and most of his council colleagues spent hours grilling the finalists and completing due diligence and noted Brominski, Urban and Dobash did not participate in those interviews.
“It was not a sham. It was not a fix. It was substantial and complete,” Williams said of the process.
McGinley said he kept an open mind and concluded Pedri was the right choice for chief executive.
“It’s important we get the correct person in that position,” he said.
But Dobash said the county should at least try to seek more applicants and asserted Pedri’s past campaign donations and other information she’s received are evidence he is political.
Urban said he never heard Pedri raise any concerns when Pedri worked in the district attorney’s office during county corruption scandals.
He also accused Pedri of providing “false information” to the council by failing to stress a job creation project would not be in jeopardy if the council rejected a recent $1 million Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce loan forgiveness request — information that came to light after McClosky Houck’s “digging.” Urban also described Pedri as Lawton’s “right-hand man.”
“I don’t think Mr. Pedri comes here with clean hands. I don’t think he’s the right person for the job,” Urban said.
Brominski, who unsuccessfully made a motion to hire Beck, said the council had agreed to ask the search committee for three names and should have interviewed at least one more applicant after the third original finalist withdrew.
Pedri doesn’t have enough management experience to run a county with $320 million in debt, a $260 million budget, including the $130 million general fund and a deficit last estimated at $16.9 million at the end of 2014, Brominski maintained.
“We had a guy with much more experience than him, and he couldn’t do it. Where are your brains?” Brominski said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.