To prevent conflicts of interest, Luzerne County’s voter-approved home rule charter banned employees of businesses with county contracts from serving on outside county boards and authorities.
But some argue the prohibition went too far, preventing professionals from serving. An often cited example is James Reino, a UGI Energy Services regional sales and operations director who had volunteered for the authority overseeing the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township, believing his marketing experience could help the entertainment venue.
The county council is scheduled to vote next week on introducing an ordinance that would ask county voters in November if they want to give the council the power to overrule the prohibition on a case-by-case basis when making board and authority appointments.
“We’ve seen a lot of good people be rejected because of some de minimis relationship,” Councilman Rick Williams said during last week’s work session.
Council members Eugene Kelleher and Edward Brominski also tentatively expressed support.
Council Chairwoman Linda McClosky Houck opposed lifting the ban, saying it was designed to ensure a “more objective view” and “another set of eyes not connected to the county.” The council should not “say which shade of gray is acceptable,” she said.
“Maybe some day this county would be ready for that, but considering our recent history in this county of collusion and all kinds of other stuff, I don’t know that we’re ready to actually say that we want to break that restriction at this point in time,” she said.
The proposed amendment would require applicants to publicly disclose county business relationships and allow the public to weigh in before the council votes on their appointments.
Council members were elected to make such judgment calls, said Williams, who chairs the council strategic initiatives committee presenting several suggested charter amendment ballot questions.
“I think the question is do we want to allow the voters to make this decision, or are we not going to give them that option?” he said.
The council will vote on introducing two other ballot question ordinances next week that would:
• Cancel a charter provision requiring county authority/board/commission members to wait one year after they leave their seats to serve as an elected county official.
• Require a council majority vote — instead of four out of 11 council members — to introduce ordinances to reopen and possibly amend the county budget in the years following council elections.
The charter ban requiring a one-year wait would have impacted two past county council contenders if they had been elected.
Brominski said this ban violates the Constitutional right to run for public office.
The allowance for four council members to hold up the budget “costs a lot of time,” said Councilman Harry Haas.
“If you can’t get a majority that at least wants to revisit the budget, you’re not going to get a majority that wants to amend it either,” McClosky Houck said.
Voting on proposed ballot questions involving the elimination of elected tax collectors for county real estate taxes and the changing of membership on several outside boards and authorities was delayed to the June council meeting.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.