January 31, 2013
Luzerne County Controller Walter Griffith said reports that he's under investigation for alleged wiretapping prompted him to ask Fairmount Township resident Michael Giamber to temporarily serve in his place on the county ethics commission.
Based on published reports of an investigation, which I still have no personal knowledge of, I thought it was best to ask a designee to serve as a precaution, Griffith said.
County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, who also serves on the ethics commission, recently said Griffith illegally recorded multiple conversations and supplied them to a grand jury investigating the Hotel Sterling's nonprofit owner, CityVest.
Salavantis said CityVest board member Y. Judd Shoval, attorneys and others were recorded by Griffith without their knowledge or consent. She has forwarded the investigation to the state Attorney General's Office because it involves another elected county official.
Griffith has vehemently denied illegally recording anyone.
Two council-appointed citizens and the county manager also serve on the commission, which was established by home rule to hear complaints of alleged county ethics code violations.
The non-citizen members must select designees to hear complaints if they have a conflict of interest or other issue with serving. The commission agreed to identify designees ahead of time annually so it wouldn't appear they were shopping around for a particular person based on circumstances.
Griffith chose West Wyoming resident Ray Gustave as his designee last year, but Griffith said Gustave has since withdrawn for personal reasons unrelated to the county.
Giamber actively supported the county's home rule charter and is among several citizens who closely monitor county government. He also has been critical of the performance of county Manager Robert Lawton.
I will do the best I can, Giamber said of his ethics commission assignment.
Citizens have also criticized Lawton for abstaining from ethics commission decisions instead of asking his designee – Kingston Administrator Paul Keating – to serve in his place if he perceives a conflict of interest.
Commission Chairwoman Margaret Hogan said Keating encountered some scheduling issues during the processing of prior cases but is participating in the decision on a complaint now before the commission.
Salavantis has named attorney Joseph Giovannini, who had worked in the district attorney's office in the past, as her designee.
The permanent commission members took an oath at a formal swearing-in, raising questions about why the designees have not been required to do the same.
Hogan said an annual oath by all commission members and designees likely will be required in proposed ethic code amendments that will come before council.
Hogan and fellow citizen commission member Vito Forlenza also want amendments allowing citizen appointees to designate people to serve in their place if they encounter a conflict.