Complaints aired in final Luzerne County manager search committee meeting

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | April 14th, 2016 7:48 pm

Luzerne County’s citizen manager search committee met for the last time Thursday to wrap up its submission of three manager finalists to the county council, but it wasn’t the fulfilling moment members expected when they volunteered four months ago.

Committee Chairman Michael Giamber prompted a backlash from other committee members when he abstained from the vote to forward the names to the council.

Several committee members faulted the council for what they described as failing to clearly define the committee’s parameters from the start.

And criticism over the committee’s decision to initially vote on a matter in executive session instead of at a public meeting — something one member characterized as an innocent mistake — caused further frustration.

“Having been through many years of experience with public entities and boards, I can honestly say that this process has reaffirmed my cynicism of politics in government, and I will leave it at that,” said committee member Gene A. Camoni.

Committee member Carmen Ambrosino said the council should adopt written protocol and orientation sessions for future committees in advance to ensure clarity between the committee and 11 council members with differing opinions. Guidance on the Sunshine Act also is needed for committee volunteers unfamiliar with the law’s requirements, he said.

“Without those in place, I, for one, would never serve on a committee again,” Ambrosino said.

The council had issued a midstream directive for the committee in March, shortly after the applications came in, requiring the panel to submit the finalist names in alphabetical order without ranking information, leaving committee members powerless to present potentially helpful expertise or insight.

Council members said they were concerned a ranked list could bias their own independent review and open up the county to liability if the council did not select the committee’s top choice.

The council-appointed citizen search committee is required by the home rule charter. This is the first time it has been activated because Robert Lawton had served as the first non-interim manager until resigning Dec. 31.

County Councilman Edward Brominski recently called for a “no confidence” vote over the committee’s decision to disqualify an applicant in closed-door executive session. A council majority rejected the proposal, saying the committee quickly remedied the Sunshine Act violation by voting again at a public meeting.

The vote to send the three highest-scoring names to council was expected to be unanimous for the four in attendance Thursday. Committee member Christopher Slusser was absent.

But Giamber opened the discussion by reading a section of the county home rule charter that says the search committee “shall recommend the candidates it believes are the most qualified to county council for its consideration.”

Giamber said the committee as a group had ranked the three finalists as qualified, but none made it to the “highly” or “superior” qualification level using the committee’s detailed evaluation matrix.

He said he would have considered voting to forward the names if the charter said the committee “shall provide” them instead of using the word “recommend” them. Further recruiting is needed to attract better qualified applicants, he said.

“That doesn’t mean they’re not capable of doing the job. They may excel. They may do wonderful. However, I have to make a judgment call for myself,” Giamber said.

Committee member Gerard O’Donnell said the committee invested more than 100 hours on the search and selection since the end of December and said the council has the ultimate “hiring authority” to select one of the three or launch a new search committee.

Camoni said he found it “peculiar” that the council didn’t want rankings on the applicants but said that decision is out of the committee’s hands.

“Could we say that any one of these three is going to do a great job or a bad job? At this point, no, but that’s not our decision. That was made very clear to us,” Camoni said.

Ambrosino said council members knew there were only 14 applicants — far less than originally projected — and did not recommend the committee re-advertise.

Camoni, Ambrosino and O’Donnell said Giamber’s abstention implies no confidence in the committee’s work, and O’Donnell said he was “disappointed” Giamber abstained instead of voting yes or no.

Ambrosino and Camoni questioned why Giamber was raising concerns during the final vote.

“This is the first I’m hearing that you have reservation about the final candidates,” Ambrosino said.

Giamber alluded to results recently received from “Caliper Profile” personality tests of the finalists and discussions with representatives of the Princeton, New Jersey-based Caliper Corp. that it “might be a good idea to hold off” on the recommendations. He also said he tried to express concerns through bar graphs during an executive session.

Ambrosino described Giamber’s view as “crystal ball mentality.” Ambrosino said a board member once told him he lacked managerial skills, had no “administrative potential” and would never direct a chemical dependency facility, but he went on to have a successful career as CEO of the nonprofit Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services Inc.

Camoni, Ambrosino and O’Donnell voted to advance the three names to the council. Council members will conduct interviews in the near future and have not decided if or when the names of all three finalists will be publicly released.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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