County manager cites inconsistencies

Last updated: April 02. 2014 11:37PM - 2626 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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For the first time, Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton is exercising a home rule charter power to bounce an approved resolution back to County Council for its reconsideration.

The resolution, pushed by Councilwoman Kathy Dobash, would require nonprofits and not-for-profits seeking county contracts to submit IRS Form 990 reports outlining top salaries and administrative overhead.

The 990s already are publicly available through a free online public database, but Dobash maintained they should be submitted as part of potential contracts to increase transparency. Several council members opposed the move, saying contracts should be awarded based on cost and an entity’s ability to provide required services.

Lawton told council he is sending back the resolution because the title says it will apply only to human service branch contracts while a portion of the text says all county contracts are included.

“Because Resolution 2014-14 presents internal inconsistencies and conflicting policy statements, I respectfully request County Council reconsider this Resolution, amending it to make unambiguous its intent,” Lawton wrote in an email to council members.

Lawton noted he is not challenging the concept of requiring 990s.

“The return of Resolution 2014-15 is based not on opposition to its laudable intent but, rather, on concerns over its curious construction,” he wrote.

Manager’s power

Home rule charter drafters gave the manager power to seek reconsideration anticipating situations where the manager would have concerns with council’s actions.

The charter requires the manager to submit requests to reconsider council-adopted ordinances within five days after passage, along with supporting reasons.

A council majority adopted the 990 resolution last week, with intentions of applying the requirement only to human service agencies. After the vote, West Wyoming resident Ray Gustave questioned the logic of not including other county branches in the requirement.

A reconsideration request from the manager postpones the resolution’s effective date until council votes to confirm the resolution, the charter says.

The charter sets a deadline forcing council to address the manager’s concerns, saying council shall reconsider the resolution at a regular or special meeting within 30 days after the manager’s request.

The manager has no authority to seek reconsideration of resolutions suspending or removing the manager, designating an acting county manager, involving appointments to outside boards and authorities or dealing with council procedural rules, the charter says.

Differs from a veto

While this matter may be resolved by clarifying the wording, Lawton could apply the reconsideration request to council legislation he does not believe is in the county’s best interest, said Council Chairman Rick Morelli, a home rule charter drafter.

Charter designers opted against providing the manager or council with outright veto power over each other due to concerns the government branches would hold authority over each other, Morelli said.

Nobody had authority to force the three commissioners to reconsider legislation under the prior government system, he said. Reconsideration requests could draw public attention to legislation if council does something “that doesn’t look right” or is “totally off the wall,” Morelli said.

“This is a perfect example of something in the charter that is a good thing — another layer of accountability. The manager can watch over us and question what we’re doing,” Morelli said.

Councilman Jim Bobeck said Lawton has been prudent about exercising the reconsideration power.

“Even though he may personally disagree with some of the actions passed, he will attempt to implement them as best as possible. He has been very careful to reserve his options for situations where he believes intervention is absolutely necessary,” Bobeck said.

He applauds the foresight of charter drafters.

“It’s another reminder of a pivotal check and balance within our current form of government that to this point has remained dormant,” Bobeck said.

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