Requirements for county manager candidacy, search process still up for debate

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | December 30th, 2015 5:25 pm

The citizen committee that will help select Luzerne County’s next manager discussed a range of issues with the county council members Tuesday, from applicant confidentiality to the salary range that should be advertised for the position.

Citizens Carmen Ambrosino, Gene A. Camoni, Robert E. Fisher, Gerard O’Donnell and Michael Giamber serve on the committee, which was required under the home rule charter to seek, screen and conduct initial interviews of county manager applicants before recommending finalists to the council for its consideration.

County 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.

This premise of independence prompted the committee to question whether it should hire a temporary clerk to collect and redact the names and residences of applicants.

Giamber, the committee chairman, said the council clerk works for council, which could conflict with the committee’s autonomy.

He and other committee members also pointed out the process may be slowed if the clerk is too busy with other work. The county received around 70 applications for the position filled by Robert Lawton in 2012, and committee members predict there could be as many as 100 this time around.

Most of the council members said they see no conflict of interest and are confident the clerk, Sharon Lawrence, would efficiently handle the work and respect the need to keep all information about the applications confidential to all but the committee members.

Applicants also will be sent to a post office box to prevent information from leaking out through those who handle county mail.

The council members said the committee has authority to hire a temporary clerk but stressed the county’s 2016 budget allocated $18,000 to cover all manager recruitment and selection expenses. The committee would have to request and justify additional funding before council if it runs out of funds.

If the committee needs legal opinions, it will consult an outside attorney in case county Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri decides to apply for the manager position.

Councilman Rick Williams asked if the identities of applicants will remain confidential, largely so applicants don’t have to worry about jeopardizing current employment.

Giamber said the committee won’t publicly divulge any information about applicants and will leave it up to the council to determine if the names of finalists will be released.

A synopsis of some other issues discussed Tuesday:

Maximum salary

The council budgeted $160,000 for the manager’s position, and Lawton received $110,000. 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.

The council members said they will ultimately negotiate the final compensation with the person they decide to hire.

The committee will consult the council about the maximum that should be stated in the job advertisement before it is released, which likely will be next month.

• Number of finalists

Williams asked if the committee will furnish additional finalists to council if the council members are not satisfied with the three- to five recommended by the committee.

Giamber said a search committee would be meaningless if the council members want to “go through the list” of applicants themselves.

• Residency requirement

The committee is discussing the possibility of requiring the manager to have a primary residence in the county within a certain time frame after employment, possibly six months.

Pedri said he found a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows governmental entities to impose residency requirements, and he will provide a memorandum on the matter.

Councilman Rick Morelli asked the committee if it has a timeline to complete its work.

Committee members said they will come up with firm milestones during their meeting Monday, which runs from 1 to 5 p.m. in the council meeting room at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

Morelli thanked the committee members for volunteering.

This is the first time an outside committee will be activated because the home rule transition committee handled the initial selection process before the council selected Lawton as the first non-interim manager in January 2012.

“It’s the first time this is taking place in the county, and I applaud all of you for stepping up and doing it. It’s going to be a lot of work,” Morelli said.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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