Robert Lawton’s final public appearance as Luzerne County manager Wednesday night was short but not entirely sweet.
The annual manager’s public forum required under the county’s home rule charter lasted seven minutes and attracted eight citizens, most regular meeting attendees.
Council members Tim McGinley and Linda McClosky Houck and Correctional Services Division Head J. Allen Nesbitt also attended the gathering by the Christmas tree in the courthouse rotunda, but they did not speak.
Lawton, who will wrap up his nearly four years of county employment Thursday, told the group the forum is the “public’s night” and asked if anyone wanted to speak.
Ed Gustitus, who has been attending county meetings on and off long before the county’s 2012 switch to home rule, wished Lawton well and said he doesn’t solely blame him for continued financial struggles and other county problems.
Gustitus criticized council members who “only want to make speeches,” prior commissioners who racked up long-term debt and unions.
Citizen Fred Javer also told Lawton he hopes he has success in his next job. Lawton has obtained a new position in another state but won’t discuss his future plans.
“I hope you get to a place that doesn’t snow,” Javer said.
Javer asked Lawton if he believes the manager position should remain appointed or become an elected post as some have supported.
“I think that’s a decision for the citizens of Luzerne County,” Lawton said.
Gustitus asked Lawton if he learned anything from his experience here and, if so, anything good.
“You’ll read it in my book,” Lawton quipped.
Charles Olah asked Lawton if he believes he received “sufficient support” from the council and citizens.
“I got all the support that I could use,” Lawton replied.
Citizen Brian Shiner asked Lawton if he would have done anything differently.
Lawton said yes but declined to elaborate on specifics as requested by Shiner.
Shiner said he came to the forum in good faith but believed Lawton wasted the citizens’ time by not answering questions. Shiner said he always treated Lawton with respect and with a “Mr.” in front of his name, even when he was criticizing or ridiculing his decisions. He also accused Lawton of home rule charter violations.
“Unfortunately you did not share that same respect for the citizens of Luzerne County you were supposed to be representing,” Shiner told him Wednesday. “We don’t thank you for your service. We’re glad to see you gone.”
Lawton, who had been seeking other employment but resigned as it became clear there were enough council votes to terminate him, did not attempt to defend himself.
“Well, anything else?” he asked the group, quickly rising from his chair when there was no reply.
He wished everyone a healthy, happy and prosperous new year and didn’t turn back.