Luzerne County Councilman Edward Brominski has asked for a new vote on the county’s correctional services division head position because his council colleague Jim Bobeck attended the meeting remotely but lost his telephone connection during part of the meeting.
If Bobeck’s telephonic vote isn’t counted, the hiring of J. Allen Nesbitt could be halted due to a 5-5 tie.
The county’s home rule charter says at least six votes — a majority of the 11-member council — are required to confirm division head nominations.
Brominski points to the rules of procedure adopted by council, which say council members attending meetings by phone “must be engaged in the meeting from the roll call through the adjournment.”
However, the same section of the rules also grants allowances for “the potential of temporary disconnection.” The council chair also must cancel votes cast by a council member who loses telephone connection more than three times during a meeting, the rules state.
Bobeck and Councilman Harry Haas both attended Monday’s council meeting by phone, and each lost connection once.
Haas voted against Nesbitt’s hiring, and Bobeck in support of the nomination.
Council Chairman Tim McGinley said he has asked county Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri for a legal opinion on Brominski’s request.
Council members Linda McClosky Houck, Eugene Kelleher, Rick Williams, Elaine Maddon Curry and McGinley also voted to confirm county Manager Robert Lawton’s nomination of Nesbitt. The remaining opposition votes came from Rick Morelli, Stephen A. Urban, Stephen J. Urban and Brominski.
Brominski said he is confident a new vote is required.
“You have to be there for all of the meeting, not just part of it,” he said.
Brominski and Stephen A. Urban also heavily criticized the selection process, saying two of the three people on the initial interviewing committee knew Nesbitt.
Brominski said Nesbitt told council in a closed-door executive session that he hired two panelists — Lehigh County Corrections Director Ed Sweeney and Berks County Warden George Wagner — in the past and considers them “social friends.”
Sweeney and Wagner should have recused themselves from participating in the selection process as a result, Brominski said.
Wagner and Nesbitt could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Sweeney said he was asked by the Luzerne County Human Resources Department to volunteer his time to serve on the selection committee.
He said he was not hired by Nesbitt and was already working at the Lehigh County prison in the 1980s before Nesbitt started his employment there. He has talked to Nesbitt at state correctional conferences but doesn’t have a friendship with him that would warrant his recusal from the selection, he said.
“There’s no close, personal relationship with him,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said the interview panel, which also included former county chief engineer Joe Gibbons, received packets on five applicants from human resources and interviewed all of them.
Lawton said the committee recommended two finalists without ranking, and he interviewed both and selected Nesbitt.
Nesbitt of Easton, was hired for $75,000 to oversee the correctional-services division covering the prison system and juvenile detention.
Stephen A. Urban also told Nesbitt he was opposing his hiring because Nesbitt resigned as warden in Bucks County at the request of county commissioners after a series of investigations and arrests of prison employees.
Maddon Curry and Kelleher said their initial concerns about Nesbitt’s records were addressed when he answered council’s questions during the lengthy executive session before Monday’s vote.