Saturday, July 12, 2014

Council to vote on Steve Flood suit

December 29. 2013 11:28PM

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Luzerne County Council will vote tonight on the settlement of long-standing litigation involving the late former county controller Steve Flood.

The Philadelphia-based Schnader , Harrison, Segal & Lewis sued Flood and his partner/guardian, Heather Paulhamus, in 2010, seeking $205,696 in legal fees for representing Flood in a defamation suit over statements he made on a November 2002 radio program.

In turn, Flood’s estate sued the retirement board, arguing the county is responsible for the legal fees. The board had initially agreed to pay for Flood ’s legal defense in the libel suit but reversed the decision shortly after Flood lost his 2005 re-election bid. The libel suit was discontinued after Flood ’s death.

The proposed $85,000 settlement would be shared equally by the employee pension fund and the county.

• Tonight’s council meeting starts at 6:45 in the council meeting room at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

• Council is set to again discuss a proposal involving the administration’s creation of positions that are not specified in a position listing attached to the annual budget.

Some officials maintained the original proposal requiring the administration to seek council approval for any position changes violated the home rule charter, which prohibits council from interfering with management decisions. The revised proposal would force the manager to notify council — not obtain its approval — at least five days before he adds positions.

• County Manager Robert Lawton recently said he expected half a dozen qualified applicants for both the vacant budget and finance and human service division head positions. He said he would soon present nominees to council for its confirmation.

• Taxpayer Ed Chesnovitch recently complained the county election bureau has not posted the latest campaign finance reports on the county website. Visiting the bureau in Wilkes-Barre to view reports is inconvenient, and the online posting should be part of the home rule promise to increase transparency, he said.

Councilman Rick Williams agreed with Chenovitch’s concern, saying the reports should be posted.

• The county’s 2012 audit has been completed and will be released after the administration responds to findings, officials said.

• John Pickering, a nearly 30-year county employee in road and bridge, recently criticized suggestions to eliminate his department to reduce budgeted spending.

He said municipalities will never accept roads and bridges now owned and maintained by the county, and the county can’t force them to do so.

The in-house plowing and repair of this infrastructure costs less than outsourcing, he maintained. County road and bridge employees also handle complicated installation of flood gates and other emergency work along the Wyoming Valley Levee when the Susquehanna River reaches flood stage, he said.

“I just want you to ask yourselves if road and bridge wasn’t out there doing all this, who would do this?” Pickering said.

• Council members recently passed a resolution encouraging state legislators to adopt proposed legislation adding a 1-percent sales tax to generate revenue for counties.

The tax could yield $7.7 million for the county, and the current proposal would require 60 percent to be used for property tax relief, said Councilman Jim Bobeck.

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