WILKES-BARRE — Bear Creek Village Mayor Walter Mitchell was appointed interim controller for Luzerne County by county council Tuesday night.
Council made the appointment by a 7-2 vote with Rick Morelli abstaining because he did not attend the candidate interviews. Stephen J. Urban and Edward Brominski voted against the appointment. Stephen A. Urban was absent.
Stephen J. Urban and Morelli also abstained from nominations — Morelli because he didn’t attend interviews and Urban because he didn’t feel any of the candidates “met my satisfaction.”
Mitchell’s appointment came after an endorsement of Carolee Medico Olenginski during public comment by Walter Griffith, who resigned as controller without explanation after he was charged with felony wiretapping earlier this year.
Griffith said he listened to interviews of the controller candidates last week, and “the only (candidate) who I think is qualified to hold the interim position is Carolee Medico,” after noting that there has been “violation after violation after violation” of the county charter.
Griffith called Medico Olenginski “the only person who will hold the county manager accountable … because that job takes a lot of guts, it takes a lot of integrity and it takes a lot of ability to watch what’s going on in this county. … No one is watching the store now.”
In addition to Mitchell and Olenginski Medico, the following Republicans applied for the spot: Michael Caravaggio, Mountain Top; Aaron Kaufer, Kingston; John Sokolowski, Plains Township; Peter Gagliardi, Wilkes-Barre; and Malcolm Hudgeon, Wilkes-Barre.
Prior to the vote, Brominski nominated Medico Olenginski, Eugene Kelleher nominated Kaufer, Linda McClosky Houck nominated Sokolowski and Rick Williams nominated Mitchell. Houck’s nomination was the only to not receive a second.
After the vote, Brominski said he thought appointing Mitchell would violate the county charter because the charter states that the controller and the district attorney cannot seek any other office while seated in that position. The deadline date for withdrawing as a candidate was Aug. 18, and Mitchell missed that deadline, so he is on the November ballot for Bear Creek Village mayor, Brominski said. “I do not believe in good faith with the charter that he can serve.”
Solicitor C. David Pedri said he disagrees. He said the charter states that “no district attorney or controller shall file a petition for nomination or election or become a candidate for any elected office. It doesn’t say ‘run for office,’” Pedri said.
Mitchell did not attend the meeting. Reached by phone afterward, he said he was “honored and humbled that council would see my application for the interim position as a positive for the county and I’m very anxious to go right to work.”
Mitchell said he planned to resign as Bear Creek Village mayor effective midnight today. And he said there are “several major items of interest that need to be attended to” after he takes the oath of office for controller at 9 a.m. Thursday, “not the least of which is hiring an additional staff person to help with our year-end audit.”
Mitchell said he will probably suggest leaving the deputy controller position open “out of respect for the controller who will be elected in November.”
Mitchell also said he looks forward to “meeting my fellow office employees over the next few days. I hope they will stop by and introduce themselves” so he can “let them know I’m not a fire breathing dragon and I’m there for the benefit of the taxpayers, and everyone who works for the county is typically a taxpayer.”
Mitchell previously had said he would not go through with his quest to be on the Republican ticket for controller in the November general election. Mitchell owns Mitchell Financial Group, a consulting firm, and he would have to shut it down if he were installed as controller, according to the Luzerne County home rule charter.
Medico Olenginski, elected to the county prothonotary post in 1997 and 2009, will face Democrat Michelle Bednar on Nov. 5 for the controller seat.
In other business, council:
• approved dispensing $600,000 of Community Development Block Grant funds to the county Housing Authority towards a townhouse project for the elderly in Plains Township at the site of the former Sacred Heart Church property.
• approved an additional $62,577 in funding for final plans on two bridge projects — one on South Main Street over Toby’s Creek, the other on Hillside Drive in Kingston Township.