IT’S A STRANGE argument, and one that holds scant weight when all is said and done, but we keep having it. And the fact that we keep having it is a sign that we have a long way to go before becoming a modern county.
As a story on page A1 of Sunday’s Times Leader noted, County Council is still debating the value of filling high-level managerial jobs with non-resident applicants. Three words in response: “Federal corruption probe.”
One would have thought the wretched excesses brought on by in-breeding and exposed by the arrest of dozens of local politicians and powerbrokers — including a former County Commissioner in Luzerne County and two in Lackawanna County — would be proof enough.
Refusing to advertise for and consider outside candidates festers unfettered cronyism and nepotism, two pillars of corruption. A critical reason the “Kids for Cash” scandal was the fact that then-President Judge Michael Conahan had great sway in hirings and appointments, and he packed courthouse key positions with those who would not or could not cross him.
This is unequivocal: When it comes to top jobs, the search should be national and all candidates should be equally measured regardless of residency. The only time a person’s home should be considered is when County Council, upon careful review of all applicants, finds two of absolute equal worth. Then the local person should get the nod rather than flipping a coin.
But if some council members still truly think this needs “debate,” let’s consider their arguments for giving residency automatic preference:
Councilman Rick Morelli contends advertising for outside applicants implies all local candidates are political, and that hiring from outside drives educated locals out of the area. The rebuttal: Seeking applicants from both inside and outside the county implies nothing, and is an excellent way to help assure the hirings are never political. And nothing can drive a well-educated, highly motivated and talented local person away than the thought that “You have to know someone” to get a decent job.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban argues most taxpayers would prefer county jobs go to county residents. Taxpayers surely want county jobs to go to the person who will do the best job for the tax dollars they are paid.
Councilman Eugene Kelleher agreed to hiring the best without considering residency, but then added it doesn’t “send a very good message to our employees if they’re not given the chance to advance.” He’s right. They should be given the chance to advance, as long as they are better candidates than an outside applicant. And if they have been doing their current county job well, surely they should have an advantage that doesn’t require consideration of residency.
Councilman Stephen J. Urban worries that outside candidates may not have sufficient knowledge of local or state laws, thus requiring “a huge learning curve.” This is an argument without a cause. If a candidate lacks necessary understanding of local or state regulations, and another, equally qualified candidate has that understanding, the first candidate should be rejected and the second approved regardless of residency for either.
But the debate is moot for a much simpler reason. This a part-time council earning modest pay, and arguably the single most important job members have is to make sure candidates for each managerial position are properly screened and vetted before the best is hired.
Do that, and residency is, de facto, irrelevant.