Rejected for a board appointment three times, Wilkes-Barre Controller Kathy Kane publicly accused Luzerne County Council members Tuesday of playing politics in their recent selection of former council candidate Alex Milanes for an unpaid arena authority seat.
Two citizens — Duryea Councilwoman Audrey Collier Marcinko and Pittston area resident Tony Paglianite — also criticized the county administration’s hiring this month of Jim Haddock as overseer of civil and criminal records because he was actively involved in the county Democratic Party.
“There are still political things going on. A man just resigned from a Third District Democratic Party (chairmanship) and received a job. We can’t do this to the people,” Collier Marcinko said in reference to Haddock during Tuesday’s council meeting.
“What’s got me appalled is I’m looking at some people in this county getting positions here, and I’m talking political positions,” Paglianite said, his voice rising.
Kane said she sought reappointment to the county authority that oversees the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township when her term expired the end of 2012 because she has experience and other authority board members “were hoping for my return.” The 11 arena authority members are not paid.
“I do believe because of my involvement in politics, or for some of you, just a dislike for me, I was passed over not once, twice, but three times,” said Kane, a former Wilkes-Barre City Council member and past county Democratic Party chairwoman.
Kane said two of this year’s council-appointed arena authority members relinquished their seats because of home rule charter restrictions related to their employment, and she said she was told Milanes would be appointed on Oct. 6, two days before council voted.
“So much for the comment in the paper concerning decisions not being made behind closed doors,” Kane said. “If you’re not being political, how is it that a person who ran for council in the May primary now became the newest board member?”
She alleged Milanes’ appointment was “aimed at getting votes.” Milanes, Wilkes-Barre Township, received 4,382 votes in May and is active with the Republican Party, but he did not win a ballot nomination to run for one of the five council seats up for grabs this year.
Nine of 11 council members voted for Milanes, but Kane singled out only one council member by name — Stephen A. Urban, who is in a council seat that doesn’t expire for two more years.
Kane said the minutes of a June council meeting indicate Urban said he wouldn’t support her because of “reasons dealing with corruption.”
“I do believe it’s slander, and it may be dealt with in that manner,” Kane told Urban, asking him to contact her with specific examples.
She then ripped into Urban about his past voting as a Republican minority county commissioner.
“It must have been very easy for you to vote no when the other commissioners voted yes. You always looked like the one who was doing the right thing when all along you may agree with the other two, but you were able to get the notoriety by voting no,” Kane said, adding she doesn’t know how he sleeps at night.
“My conscience is clear. Is yours?” she asked Urban.
Kane left after her comment, and Urban waited until the council comment portion of the meeting to reply. He referenced Kane’s involvement in candidate nomination petition signatures with former county manager Bill Brace, who was charged as part of the federal corruption probe.
Saying he always fought corruption and has a clear conscience, Urban said he will never support Kane’s appointment to a county board, largely because she “closed a blind eye to what’s going on in the city” by failing to investigate missing gasoline.
“Do you want to be political, Ms. Kane? Be political, but do your damn job in the city of Wilkes-Barre because I’m tired of paying taxes in the city,” he said, mentioning a taxpayer-funded city fine stemming from the missing fuel.
County Judicial Services and Records Division Head Joan Hoggarth selected Haddock, Pittston Township, for the $47,500 civil/criminal records position last month, citing his past 24 years of banking and nine years of management experience.
A former Avoca mayor, Haddock had resigned his post as the county’s Democratic Party Third District chairman before accepting the position.
Hoggarth sent an email to council Tuesday night addressing the accusation of politics after watching a live television broadcast of the meeting. Though he didn’t use names, Urban also hinted during the meeting that politics was also involved in Hoggarth’s recent selection of Mary Dysleski to oversee deeds and wills because Hoggarth had worked under Dysleski when Dysleski was the elected recorder of deeds in the mid-2000s.
“I think all of you know the merit process was followed, and I back my choices 100 percent,” Hoggarth wrote. “The Division of Judicial Services and Records is much better today than it was just a short time ago.”
Paglianite urged council members to seize control over job selections because they were elected to be accountable to the public, but county officials said the home rule charter prohibits council involvement in hiring except for the selection of a county manager and council clerk and confirmation of the manager’s division head choices.
Councilman Rick Morelli, a charter drafter, told Paglianite he supported putting hiring in the hands of administrators and stressed the charter was approved by voters and is now law. Political hiring may exist in any system, but it is more likely if job selections are made by elected officials who seek campaign donations and political support in elections, he said.
“I’ve seen it with school boards. We’ve seen it elsewhere. I do believe at the end of the day there’s a benefit of taking the hiring practice out of the people who are up here,” Morelli said, referring to council.