Board members warn of ‘major issues’ unless laid off worker is rehired

Last updated: January 09. 2014 11:27PM - 2065 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com

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The recent layoff of a Luzerne County election worker on top of four staff reductions in the office last fall will make it “next to impossible” to conduct the May primary without “major problems and issues,” county election board members have warned council.

“Such problems may end up involving state intervention, even legal action, if voters or would-be voters in Luzerne County make protests to the Commonwealth election officials,” the board said in the email.

Office Clerk Debra Miller was among 22 workers furloughed Dec. 31 as part of a plan to close a $1.4 million budget deficit.

County Manager Robert Lawton has said he never indicated the cuts would be painless and would do his best to minimize the impact on services.

Election Director Marisa Crispell eliminated four positions in the fall with the manager’s promise she could hire a deputy director as part of her streamlining plan to save $124,000 annually, said the email from election board members H. Jeremy Packard, Thomas Baldino, Barbara Williams and John Ruckno.

However, the deputy position was never filled and was cut in the 2014 budget, the email said.

Crispell said she is left with four employees — a voting machine technician and three inspectors.

Miller was the primary phone operator and also distributed mail, assisted with purchase orders and invoices and prepared polling place supplies, among many other duties, Crispell said.

Miller was in the process of posting campaign finance reports online — a service repeatedly requested by county officials and citizens, she said. Miller also never lost her composure and civility when bombarded with phone calls, she said.

“She’s an extremely hard worker. I can’t express how much that position and Deb means to this office,” Crispell said.

While budget-related staff cuts were necessary in the county, a layoff in the election office after self-initiated cuts jeopardizes the electoral process and may attract state or federal action against the county, the email said. The county’s election office must comply with state and federal election laws with a staff that is “relatively small” compared to most counterparts in the state, the email said.

“The election bureau, in order to ensure valid elections, must at the very least have the person recently let go restored to make six full time employees in the bureau,” the email said.

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