The testy exchanges between Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton and his council critics erode confidence among the public, which is one of many reasons we hope the soap opera-like antics soon end.
The wrangling at meetings like what occurred Tuesday night, details of which admittedly tend to get more widely reported than nuts-and-bolts boardroom activities, has caused certain people to question whether home rule is no better than the prior government setup.
That’s a shame.
The one-upmanship and ego clashes (including earlier calls for one or another’s resignation) detract from the significant progress made by this new county government – and all the critical work that remains to be done. Priority one: Chip away at the multimillion-dollar debt incurred by prior county leaders.
Lawton unnecessarily surprised many people, and angered at least one council member, Vice Chairman Edward Brominski, by disgorging detailed data during, and after, last week’s council meeting. Brominski interjected a couple times, saying, “I feel like I’m sitting in church and the priest is reading the bulletin to me.” The councilman contended that the manager’s presentation should have been made during a work session.
The manager, who understandably has tired of detractors who seemingly conjure something sinister behind each decision he makes, said his detailed report was another attempt at transparency. After the meeting adjourned, Lawton volunteered to stay and continue his briefing to council members and other attendees; the session, during which he and division heads answered questions, continued for nearly two hours.
Brominski did not stay to listen to the report.
Perhaps lost in the hubbub, and in Lawton’s provocative style for delivering this recent message, was the substance.
The county manager’s comprehensive report – and his willingness to take questions about it and other matters – offers a welcome opportunity for county residents to more closely follow their government’s activities. That’s a good and desirable thing. Lawton posted the June 24 report to his section of the county’s website, at www.luzernecounty.org.
The document begins with an introduction and an invitation for people to contact Lawton with “questions, comments or suggestions.” It reads, in part: “Attached is the County Manager’s Wednesday Memo, a document intended to provide residents with current information on County activities. With each successive edition I believe the Memo will change and improve, and ask that you regard this first edition as part of a work in progress.”
The report supplies a snippet on the county’s efforts at black fly suppression program. For the money-watchers, it gives specifics on recent contracts, or amended contracts, signed by the county manager; during the time span in question, Lawton had inked 56 contracts, totalling $3.3 million. The report even divulges how many bids have been received for pending contacts and details the vendor checks issued for more than $25,000.
Readers of the report also will find a thorough update of county employment activity: new hires, promotions and reclassifications, with salaries listed. Current job vacancies appear in the report, with a status, such as “interviews scheduled” or “job offer made,” designated for each. Recent retirements and resignations are provided, too.
Some portions of the report, including a look at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, attempt to put figures in context. “On June 23, 2014, seven new correctional officers completed their classroom training and have joined the LCCF on a full-time basis,” it reads. “The addition of these seven, who have replaced resigned or retired COs, will assist in addressing overtime as the Correctional Facility heads into the summer vacation schedule.”
Lawton deserves credit for using readily available technology to compile and share this sort of information with people well beyond the confines of a council meeting room.
In a county once crippled by corruption, residents deserve this level of openness.
They could, however, do without the council-manager drama.