Five of 11 Luzerne County Council seats up for grabs Tuesday

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Tom Quigley votes at the Kistler polling place in South Wilkes-Barre during the primary in May. - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

Voters will fill five of the 11 Luzerne County Council seats in Tuesday’s general election.

Ten candidates are in the running — five Democrats and five Republicans. Voters are free to choose any five, regardless of party affiliation.

Council members receive $8,000 annually and serve for four years.

Their duties include approving the budget and larger contracts, appointing members to outside county boards, enacting codes and ordinances, confirming nominations to eight division head positions and hiring and evaluating the manager.

The selected five will serve with sitting council members Edward Brominski, Eugene Kelleher, Tim McGinley, Robert Schnee, Stephen A. Urban and Jane Walsh Waitkus.

Outgoing council members Kathy Dobash, Eileen Sorokas and Rick Williams did not enter the race.

Incumbents Harry Haas and Linda McClosky Houck are running for re-election and both served since the county’s customized home rule government structure took effect in January 2012. If they win, they could not run for the seat again in 2021 because the council members are limited to three consecutive terms under the home rule charter.

Some background on the Democrats seeking the seat, based on their submissions and/or statements made in candidate forums:

Wendy Cominsky, 46, of Dallas Township, owns and operates Au Salon in Dallas, where she also is a hair stylist. She previously owned Country Scissors from 1995 to 2002.

A single mother and county resident for approximately 25 years, Cominsky said she has financial oversight experience as a small business owner for more than a decade. She also has volunteered as an activist.

Cominsky said she wants to review approaches to raise revenue that have been implemented in other areas to determine if they can be applied here.

This region also should do more to promote its tourism opportunities, higher education institutions and “beautiful landscape,” she said.

”Families should be wanting to come here. It’s a great area. We just are not meeting our potential,” Cominsky said.

John Gadomski, 64, of Wyoming, worked in the carpentry and contracting field for more than 45 years and said he now has free time to focus on county government because he recently retired.

A 1971 Wyoming Area High School graduate, Gadomski attended union apprenticeship carpenter training and studied at Penn State University. He served as council representative for the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters and vice president of Carpenters Local 445 NEPA. He also was trustee on the health and welfare, pension, and savings and annuity funds for the carpenters’ union.

Gadomski said his experience solving problems and working with others in his previous roles would be beneficial on council. Boosting the tax base by attracting new business and industry to the area is among his primary goals, he said, maintaining too many people who grew up in the area have left for better jobs.

“That’s one of the reasons I want to run for this position because we need some local people to help our children stay here,” Gadomski said.

McClosky Houck, 59, of Kingston, is a Wyoming Valley West School District teacher and in her third year serving as county council chair, previously acting as vice chair for two years.

A graduate of Wyoming Valley West High School and Ithaca College, she has master’s degrees from Misericordia University and King’s College. She also has been the organist, choir director and worship director at Holy Family Parish in Luzerne for more than 45 years, serves as the parish business manager and is a member of the Parish Pastoral Council and Activities Committee.

McClosky Houck said she chose to return to the area after college because she and her husband believe the county is a “wonderful place.” She said she was heavily involved in home rule’s implementation and supported refinancing and other initiatives to get the county back on solid fiscal footing.

“I’m very much a proponent of home rule. I think that we’ve made great progress, and I think that residents of Luzerne County have never known as much about the operations of their government as they have in the last six years,” she said.

Sheila Saidman, 68, of Kingston, is a retired lawyer who has worked as a county assistant district attorney, legal counsel for various entities and in private law practice.

A Wyoming Valley West graduate, she has a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in education from Temple University and received her law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She was elected the first female president of the Luzerne County Bar Association in 2008 and said she sits on a variety of boards that positively impact the region.

Saidman said her professional and volunteer experience would make her an effective council member.

”I believe my skills as a litigator, negotiator and consensus builder will assist me if you elect me to be your representative on county council,” Saidman said.

Matthew Vough, 25, of Pittston, is the marketing manager at Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. in Exeter.

He graduated from the Scranton Preparatory School in 2010 and obtained a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Scranton in 2014. He has volunteered as a youth basketball instructor at the Pittston YMCA.

Vough said he decided to remain here after college and purchased a house because he is committed to the area. His management position involves oversight of a $1 million budget and approximately seven people.

His primary focuses would be fiscal responsibility, economic development and engaging youth. He wants to create more programs connecting local high school and college students with area businesses, exposing them to potential viable career options that will keep them here.

“It gives them the ability to connect with local business owners in the hopes it turns into jobs and Luzerne County retaining our youth,” Vough said.

A synopsis of the Republican contenders:

Marc Dixon, 48, of Wright Township, is business development director for Kodak Alaris in the Americas, overseeing approximately 50 accounts with total revenue of more than $30 million.

He wants to focus on upgrading infrastructure, encouraging regionalization and promoting quality of life improvements, in part to attract more technology jobs to the region. The growing drug epidemic also must be addressed, he said.

Dixon encouraged voters to choose five contenders who agree to disagree and put their differences aside to continue progress made under home rule.

”I believe we can make some good strides with the right people in place,” Dixon said.

Harry Haas, 42, of Kingston, is a Dallas Middle School teacher with a bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degree in education from The George Washington University.

Haas said he votes his conscience and has made tough decisions on council that helped to reduce inherited debt and the size of the workforce. His goals for a final term would include lobbying against locally-funded state mandates, identifying additional fiscal improvements and eliminating blight through a special committee he pushed to create.

He said he strived to concentrate on issues and “not get into personalities” on council.

“I’m running again because I truly believe in home rule. I believe in its successes. We made a lot of progress over the old commissioner system,” he said.

Chris Perry, 68, of Fairview Township, is retired after a 36-year tenure in the Hazleton Area School District as a teacher, coach and athletic director. He managed a $1 million budget as athletic director for 25 years and also retired from the National Guard after 25 years of service.

Perry majored in biology at Bloomsburg University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education in 1971.

He said he wholeheartedly supports home rule and believes county Manager C. David Pedri is a “proven leader.” Perry said he has professional experience identifying budgeting options “to do more with less” and addressing the priorities of students, parents, principals, military personnel and the public.

“I believe I have the temperament to work with council members and the county manager to make the proper decisions to move the county in the right direction,” Perry said.

Stephen J. Urban, 44, of Wilkes-Barre, is an IT support coordinator with a major food distributor and served on council from 2012 through 2015.

He said he was an asset on council because he pushed for additional information and discussion on pending matters and identified inefficiencies — approaches he would continue if he returns to the legislative body.

Urban said he would never vote for a real estate tax increase and does not support adding new positions because he is convinced additional budgetary reductions are feasible.

“I’d like to get back on council because I know the role, and there are many changes that need to be done to hold the county accountable,” Urban said.

Gregory Wolovich Jr., 25, of Newport Township, is a food selector for Wegmans Food Markets.

A graduate of GAR Memorial High School in Wilkes-Barre, Wolovich obtained a bachelor’s degree in accounting from King’s College. He said his accounting degree will help with budget analysis, particularly in identifying options to reduce the size of government and protect residents like him who are “living paycheck to paycheck.”

Wolovich said he was inspired to run because the home rule charter says citizens have a right and responsibility to serve in all phases of county government. He said he has strong communication skills and can work with council colleagues on “both sides of the aisle.”

“I want the public to know I’m here for you. I want to make sure that this is a county for the people,” Wolovich said.

Tom Quigley votes at the Kistler polling place in South Wilkes-Barre during the primary in May. Quigley votes at the Kistler polling place in South Wilkes-Barre during the primary in May. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

The Wilkes-Barre Area League of Women Voters has published a voter guide with information on Luzerne County Council candidates and contenders in some other races. The guide may be accessed on the league’s Facebook page.

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

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