The council vote Tuesday was tied 5-5, with Councilman Harry Haas abstaining.
Lawton had nominated Colorado resident Linda A. Coxen for the judicial services and records division head at $67,500. The county’s home rule charter created the division to oversee the deeds, wills, sheriff, coroner and civil and criminal court records departments.
Lawton’s agenda submission said he would start the application process “anew” to obtain a different pool of candidates if the confirmation fails. He said after the meeting he will review his options.
Haas said he was abstaining from the vote because Kingston attorney Jim Haggerty, a charter drafter, served on the selection panel and has donated to Haas’ council re-election campaign committee.
The selection panel recommended four unranked applicants to Lawton, who selected Coxen.
Yes votes came from council members Jim Bobeck, Elaine Maddon Curry, Linda McClosky Houck, Rick Williams and Rick Morelli.
Council members Eugene Kelleher, Stephen A. Urban, Stephen J. Urban, Tim McGinley and Edward Brominski voted against the nomination.
Nobody questioned the qualifications of Coxen, a Danville native who attended the meeting, traveling here at her own expense. Coxen outlined her experience implementing efficiencies at district attorney’s offices in Colorado, saying she wanted the opportunity to be a part of the county’s new home rule government.
Stephen A. Urban told Coxen he has heard complaints from residents about the hiring of people from outside the area and said he believes there are qualified local applicants.
Kelleher, who has supported Lawton’s nominees for five other division heads, said he was not satisfied with the selection process “this time.”
Some county officials and employees have privately questioned why the position did not go to deeds office overseer Joan Hoggarth, who was named interim judicial services and records division head by Lawton. Brominski said his opposition was a “no-confidence vote” for Lawton.
Morelli said he agrees with the concept of seeking local applicants first but said that’s irrelevant in this situation because the manager conducted a nationwide search.
Maddon Curry said changes are needed in the division’s departments, and Coxen has experience implementing efficiencies. Council members must do what’s best for the county, not best for them “personally,” she said.
Williams concurred, telling Coxen, “While it may not be popular to vote for you, I think it is the right decision.”
Coxen told council members she understood their concerns and shook some of their hands before Lawton escorted her out of the meeting room. She sent an email to council members Tuesday night thanking them for their consideration.
In other business, a majority of council supported Morelli’s motion to hold a special public council work session once a month solely to discuss the budget.
Lawton told council “everything is fine” after his review of first-quarter spending and revenue, but Morelli said council members need more time to digest and question finances.
Lawton’s first-quarter report, which was submitted to council shortly before Tuesday’s meeting, is posted on the county’s website, www.luzernecounty.org.