County council debates merit hiring
WILKES-BARRE, Nov 14, 2012 (The Citizens' Voice - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A debate about whether more than 350 Luzerne County jobs are exempt from merit-selection requirements resurfaced at Tuesday's county council meeting.
The intent of the county home-rule charter was to impose uniform hiring and promotion requirements for all county employees, said several members of the commission that wrote the charter.
"This is what the home rule charter is about," said Rich Heffron, a member of the charter commission. "Don't mess up now."
Voters approved a referendum in 2010 to adopt the charter, which established the new government Jan. 2.
Michael Giamber, chairman of the campaign committee that backed the charter, said "we will do whatever is necessary" and "go to court" to stop the hiring of employees without adherence to merit-selection regulations in the charter and personnel code. Those regulations require advertising vacancies, scoring and ranking job applicants and determining three finalists for interviews.
Requiring merit-selection regulations for six division heads, a chief solicitor and chief public defender could further delay those appointments.
In an email sent Tuesday morning to council members, Councilman Jim Bobeck said county Manager Robert Lawton should have "the ability to assemble his team" without following codified regulations.
"Council has confirmation responsibilities, and therein lies the check," Bobeck said in an email sent Tuesday morning to council members. "Any purported attempts to change this dynamic infringes upon the clear separation of powers between non-political manager and elected officials, and it demonstrates an intrusion by elected officials to lay claim to power and processes which are not theirs to handle."
Giamber said he was "shocked and appalled" by Bobeck's email. He said council should amend the personnel code to end confusion over references to employees exempt from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes a national minimum wage and guarantees "time-and-a-half" for overtime in certain jobs.
Later in the meeting, Councilman Rick Morelli introduced a motion to direct the solicitor's office to draft an ordinance that would eliminate health care benefits for part-time employees who are not represented by unions. Council members voted 8-3 to postpone a vote on Morelli's motion.
Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry said "to make decisions about employees' livelihoods" with data on affected employees "is reckless."
"It's not reckless," Morelli responded. "It's a simple question. Should non-union, part-time employees get benefits "
Kathy Dobash, a Republican minority inspector of elections at a Hazleton precinct, and Maddon Curry exchanged heated words during a public comment session.
Dobash complained that Maddon Curry was interfering at her precinct.
Dobash said she filed complaints with the board of elections and ethics commission.
Curry said she was "acting as an American citizen" to help registered voters who were turned away at voting precincts.
Earlier in the meeting, acting chief solicitor Vito DeLuca defended his decision to only provide copies of county emails on paper and charge 25 cents for each page.
DeLuca addressed county council about how his office handles open-records requests. The county is required to comply with the state Right-to-Know Law, which gives the public the ability to request access to public records.
Melissa Melewsky, legal counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said the county must provide electronic copies of requested emails unless they contain redactions and can't charge for inspecting records unless records with redactions are printed.
The county can produce electronic copies of emails on PDF format or on a .PST file burned onto CDs, county information technology director Stephen Englot said.
But the county doesn't have to create a record in a manner that doesn't exist, and burning a .PST file could result in the release of information that is exempt from disclosure, DeLuca said. The county prints all copies of emails for a review to determine if exemptions apply, DeLuca said.
Councilman Stephen J. Urban said the county can easily make copies of selected emails within a .PST file and provide them to record requesters.
Staffing limitations has created problems responding to open-records requests for large numbers of emails, DeLuca explained. Luzerne County receives more open-records requests than any other third-class county in the state, DeLuca told council.
"There's a reason for that," said Veronica Ciaruffoli, a member of the commission that wrote the county home-rule charter. "Listen to the people."
___ (c)2012 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) Visit The Citizens' Voice
(Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ InfoTech Spotlight's Homepage ]