Search is on for next Luzerne County manager

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | December 2nd, 2015 10:20 pm

The nine citizens who want to play a major role in selecting Luzerne County’s top manager will be publicly interviewed next week, said council Chairwoman Linda McClosky Houck.

There was no debate about keeping the process open because the council already publicly interviews citizens interested in serving on numerous county boards, authorities and commissions — a change implemented under the home rule government, McClosky Houck said.

The council must rely on an outside committee of at least three citizens to seek, screen and conduct initial interviews of county manager applicants. The committee then recommends three finalists to the council for its consideration.

Home rule charter drafters removed the council from the initial process, believing it would make the selection more impartial and less vulnerable to political intervention. The council’s only involvement at the start is choosing the committee members.

The manager position will be vacant Jan. 1 because Robert Lawton submitted his resignation last week.

The council has not released the names of committee applicants. McClosky Houck said the applicants who volunteered will be publicly identified and have an opportunity to present their qualifications during interviews starting at 5 p.m. Dec. 9 in the council meeting room at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

Eleven citizens applied, but two were eliminated because they already serve on other county boards or authorities, she said.

Each applicant will be asked the same series of questions on Dec. 9, she said.

McClosky Houck said several other residents who were unaware of last month’s committee application deadline have since expressed an interest in serving, but it will be up to a council majority to decide if additional applicants will be interviewed and considered.

McClosky Houck stressed the Dec. 9 session is not a public meeting, which means audience members can listen but won’t be invited to the podium to question or critique applicants. The council members will meet in executive session after the interviews to privately discuss the applicants, she said.

The council may select the committee members at the Dec. 15 voting meeting, she said.

She asked the council to review the 2011 advertisement for the county manager position and suggest revisions.

“Although the search committee will do the work of selecting the final candidates for the position, we as a council can provide some input on the qualifications and attributes of desirable manager candidates,” she wrote in an email.

A bachelor’s degree and at least five years of relevant work experience are the only home rule charter requirements for the manager, she said.

The 2011 advertisement included a master’s degree and prior experience as a county manager as preferred qualifications.

The council has not debated a salary range for the next manager — a step that will be necessary for the search committee to proceed.

Lawton receives $110,000 with no contract guaranteeing his employment for a particular time period.

The charter says the salary can’t exceed the elected district attorney’s compensation, which is budgeted at $178,800 in 2016, or be less than 55 percent of the district attorney’s salary, or $98,300.

It’s unclear if a salary of $110,000 would continue to attract a large pool of applicants because county manager positions routinely pay $150,000 or more across the country.

Citizen Michael Giamber, who did not apply to serve on the search committee, sent the council members an email urging them to consider increasing the salary, possibly to around $165,000, to “entice highly qualified candidates to apply and accept the challenge.”

Giamber said it will be a “high order” to attract a strong leader with proven experience “changing legacy organizations using modern efficient techniques and processes and then getting others to buy in to his/her ideas.”

He also reminded the council that the selection of the next manager could be home rule’s “last chance” because voters will be free to alter or revert back to the old form of government after home rule’s fifth anniversary at the end of 2016.

Councilman Tim McGinley also told his colleagues Tuesday that they must budget funds in 2016 to cover the manager search, including the cost of advertisement.

McClosky Houck suggested he submit a proposed budget amendment with a suggested amount for the council to debate.

County officials have estimated the recruitment and selection process will take 25 to 28 weeks.

McClosky Houck Houck
Council to interview candidates for search committee

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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