County council debates reviving Commission for Women

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Luzerne County Courthouse -

Sheila Saidman told her Luzerne County Council colleagues she requested discussion about reactivating a county Commission for Women after learning most counties in the state have such an entity.

Council had voted to abolish the commission in 2016 due to a lack of activity and public interest.

Saidman said more may seek to get involved in a commission in light of the #MeToo Movement and increased national focus on sexual harassment. The governor and his wife also support formation of a county commission, she said.

“Maybe there will be a difference and excitement. I think that we can’t say no to it until we see what’s out there,” Saidman said.

A proposed ordinance says a commission of up to 30 council-appointed citizens would benefit residents by evaluating the extent the needs of women are addressed and advocating for the rights of women “in all areas and situations.”

Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said only two or three people had expressed an interest in serving on the commission before council unanimously voted to disband it two years ago, and these applicants did not list the commission as their first preference among county board appointment options.

McClosky Houck said she’s not particularly in favor of creating a commission to represent “one group of our society.” She noted council had also decided in 2016 against creating a county Human Relations Commission.

“If we’re going to establish a commission, let’s go back and look at the Human Relations Commission. Let’s look at something like that that will benefit a whole lot of other people,” McClosky Houck said.

Council’s Authorities, Boards and Commissions Committee was assigned to study options.

More news and notes

• Repairs and upgrades to the Luzerne County prison elevator involved in two July 2016 deaths are almost complete, county Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo said last week.

“There are just a few things that need to get done. We’re near the end,” Crocamo said, adding that a final inspection also will be required.

Elevator contractor KONE Inc., of Mechanicsburg, had been hired for $63,875 in April 2017 to repair the elevator, but the final cost increased due to additional work and was not immediately available.

The fifth-floor elevator door swung open at the base on July 18, 2016, when inmate Timothy Darnell Gilliam Jr., 27, fell backward and hit the door, pulling 25-year-old correctional officer Kristopher Moules with him, an investigation found. The men fell 59 feet from the fifth floor to the top of the elevator car, which was stationary on the ground floor, and both died of multiple traumatic injuries, officials have said.

The prison has been operating with one elevator since the deaths.

• The sale of 39 repository properties was unanimously approved by county council last week.

Repository properties are ones that do not sell in at least two back-tax auctions, and offers can be submitted at any time. The 16 structures and 23 vacant lots were sold for a combined $19,483.

• County Manager C. David Pedri told council his new favorite pastime is reviewing more than 300 county-owned parcels to determine if any can be sold to generate county revenue.

Many of the properties, including vacant slivers, ended up in the county’s name during the past 200 years. Pedri said the administration is examining each to make lists of which are occupied and needed and those that can be sold.

“We have quite a number of properties we’ll be asking county council to put up for sale relatively soon,” Pedri said.

• As part of the push to review county land holdings, the administration has identified around 15 properties that could be “major billboard revenue generators” for the county, he said.

Harrisburg-based Public Financial Management, the county’s financial consultant, had suggested the billboard idea in its 2005 recovery plan. County officials discussed but did not advance the idea at various times since then.

• The administration’s proposed purchase of a privately owned commercial warehouse next to the Water Street prison in Wilkes-Barre is off the table because the owner has raised the price, Pedri told council.

Luzerne County Courthouse County Courthouse

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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

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