Luzerne County ethics commission activates processing of lingering complaints

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
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Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri officially handed over a stack of 35 sealed ethics complaints to outside attorneys for their review Thursday, including one that prior county controller Walter Griffith said he filed more than a year ago.

Attorney Michael Sharkey received 17 complaints, and the remaining 18 went to Nanda Palissery.

The two county ethics commission lawyers must unseal the envelopes, investigate and recommend if the cases should be dismissed or upgraded to formal matters heard by the commission.

Kingston resident Brian Shiner said he had filed 34 ethics complaints against county council members and administrators in February, maintaining that they ignored home rule charter requirements involving a board appointment.

The complaint processing delay stemmed in part from the commission’s inability to find outside attorneys required by the council-adopted ethics code. Council added the provision to address concerns about the commission handling both investigations and rulings.

Three ethics commission members — Pedri, District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and Controller Michelle Bednar — had approved the hiring of Palissery and Sharkey at $140 per hour in March. The two remaining citizen commission seats were vacant at that time.

Although the county law office concluded only three commission votes were necessary for the outside attorney hiring, the full five-member commission unanimously voted Thursday to confirm the appointments.

Pedri said he and other members wanted to give the two new citizen members — Republican Marc Dixon and Democrat Karen Metta — an option to weigh in, even though their votes were not technically required.

Council appointed Dixon in April and Metta in May.

Griffith told commission members Thursday that his complaint was important and is “almost moot” because of the time that has lapsed. He criticized the commission for waiting until June to distribute the complaints to the attorneys.

The attorneys will notify commission members if they are named in a complaint, which would require them to abstain from involvement, Pedri said.

Commission members agreed to meet again in August to discuss the attorneys’ recommendations.

In a related matter, a council committee considering code revisions has discussed the possibility of eliminating a third outside attorney required in the ethics code because no other lawyers have expressed interest in the post after several rounds of public advertising.

The commission also voted Thursday to name Dixon chairman and Metta vice chairwoman.

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https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_dixon.jpegDixon

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

jandes@timesleader.com

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

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