Some Luzerne County Council members should look in the mirror if they want to know part of the reason the county is encountering issues attracting and retaining employees, county Manager Robert Lawton said this week in a rare counter response.
Lawton held up former chief engineer Joe Gibbons’ resignation a year ago as one example.
Compensation was a factor because Gibbons was offered at least $20,000 more to accept a position outside the area, Lawton said.
But Lawton also believes Gibbons was swayed to leave by a warning from a county council member who privately told Gibbons his county employment was in jeopardy because he was “getting too close” to Lawton.
“It’s hard to hold professionals like Gibbons when they are told something like this from a member of council,” Lawton said.
He declined to identify the council member but said he will reconsider if the accuracy of his claim is challenged.
Impressed with Gibbons’ integrity and work ethic, Lawton had designated the chief engineer as acting county manager if someone was needed to run the county in his absence. Gibbons had said the decision to leave county employment after 12 years had nothing to do with the county’s switch to home rule or Lawton’s leadership effectiveness.
Reached for comment Friday, Gibbons said he primarily left because he worked hard and saw no opportunities for career advancement at a compensation appropriate for the duties he performed. He declined to discuss the alleged comment from a council member, saying he was never political and does not want to get in the middle of such matters.
Another example cited by Lawton was Councilman Edward Brominski’s recent public questioning of Charleston, South Carolina, resident Tanis Manseau before a council majority confirmed Manseau’s nomination as operational services division head.
Brominski asked Manseau if he plans to establish residency and purchase a property in the county. Manseau said he plans to buy a property but will rent first until he becomes more familiar with the area.
Lawton said he was “disturbed” Brominski questioned Manseau about where he will live because the county’s home rule charter has no residency requirement.
The question about purchasing a property also was “offensive” and implies renters “are second-class citizens not worthy of serving in county leadership positions,” Lawton said. He estimated 30 percent of county residents live in rental properties.
“That type of spectacle makes it harder for us to recruit applicants,” Lawton said.
Brominski also publicly said the county should first consider county residents for positions.
Lawton said five of the eight division heads were county residents at the time of their appointments. Several county residents who applied for management positions also have declined employment offers, he said.
“We provide every opportunity for county residents to serve, but the requirement is to pursue the best qualified applicants, regardless of where they live,” Lawton said.
Lawton said he was raising the examples as proof there are a multitude of reasons for the county’s employment and recruitment challenges.
The county has around 50 open positions, including eight management.
“We lost some bright people who chose to move on, and there are always a variety of factors at work,” Lawton said.
The exodus has been blamed on Lawton’s management, discord among County Council members, changes stemming from the January 2012 switch to home rule government, a lack of non-union pay raises in seven years and increased workloads due to budget-related layoffs.
Brominski stood by his decision to ask division head nominees if they intend to buy property here, saying home ownership is evidence of commitment to the position and area.
He also said several qualified county property owners were not considered for management positions, though these applicants are reluctant to come forward and publicly identify themselves.
“These people would have been willing to accept the compensation advertised,” he said.
Lawton said he is addressing complaints about a lack of pay increases through an outside analysis of market salary ranges for about 200 non-union positions.
The administration is reviewing proposals from companies interested in conducting the analysis. The hired company will review the work performed by each employee and determine the appropriate compensation.
This approach removes favoritism and politics and prevents the manager from “acting unilaterally,” Lawton said. The findings will be used as a guide in 2015 budget preparations, though he said he can’t guarantee all employees will instantly receive the compensation identified in the outside analysis.