Luzerne County Children and Youth Advisory Board members question new manager hiring process

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | January 13th, 2016 6:56 pm

Some Luzerne County Children and Youth Advisory Board members questioned the selection process for a new director of the troubled agency during their monthly meeting Wednesday.

County Children and Youth Services Director Krista McIlhaney left for a position elsewhere on Dec. 31 as the agency is trying to turn around the state’s downgrading of the agency’s license to provisional status.

Advisory Board member Ray Whalen told the county council last month that it took nearly a year to seek and hire McIlhaney, and he doesn’t want the agency to be without a director that long again.

Whalen also urged the council to include three advisory board representatives in the selection process and pointed out the Children and Youth administrator opening has been advertised at two different salaries — $61,000 and $68,000 — even though McIlhaney was making $78,000.

Council members had advised Whalen to address the issues with the administration, saying the council can’t get involved in such hiring matters under the county’s home rule charter.

County Human Services Division Head David Schwille said Wednesday he was unable to attend the advisory board meeting because he had another meeting involving a client that could not be cancelled.

Schwille said three advisory board members will be included in upcoming interviews for the administrator position. Six applicants who met minimum qualifications likely will be interviewed by the review committee, he said.

Children and Youth Deputy Director Judi Omerza told advisory board members the county received around 100 applications for the administrator position.

Advisory Board member Barry Finn said board representatives are in the dark about the status of the search and should have representatives involved in the screening to ensure no viable applicants are ruled out.

“One hundred people applied, and none of us know anything about it,” Finn said.

Several board members agreed the advertisement at a lower salary may have discouraged more experienced candidates from applying, particularly in a county where Children and Youth is struggling with staffing and licensing issues.

Committee member Joseph Caffrey said more communication is needed from the administration. Former county manager Robert Lawton never met with the advisory board during his nearly four years overseeing county government, Caffrey said.

“I’ve never really seen a desire from the other side to be advised,” he said.

County Acting Manager C. David Pedri said Wednesday night he looks forward to working with the board.

“It’s good that these citizens are volunteering to serve on the board, and we appreciate their opinions,” he said.

The board also complained about the administration’s delays releasing the board’s survey to employees as part of an effort to gauge staff morale and concerns, which was submitted five weeks ago.

A worker told the board a human resources employee is finalizing details of the email that will be sent to employees inviting them to participate.

In other business, Omerza told the board 14 new caseworkers have been hired, which reduces the number of vacancies to 16. Schwille said these 14 new employees will complete training Feb. 1, which means there’s a chance some will drop out or fail to advance to permanent employment.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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