Friday, July 11, 2014

Flood board case going to court

February 17. 2013 9:50AM

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Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and County Manager Robert Lawton announced Friday they will jointly seek a court ruling that could remove four of the five county Flood Protection Authority members.

The rarely used action, called "quo warranto," asks a judge to determine a person's right to hold office, officials said. The action will be filed by a District Attorney's Office lawyer.

Salavantis and Lawton stressed they are not questioning the "personal integrity" of the authority members in unpaid seats.

"I thank them for serving the public in this capacity. Nonetheless, state law vests jurisdiction in the district attorney to bring this issue to court when an individual's right to hold office is legitimately questioned," Salavantis said in the release.

Noting the authority's ability to spend tax money, Salavantis said, "I believe it is important that the court affirm or deny the legitimacy of their positions."

The District Attorney's Office has not historically interfered in matters questioning the legitimacy of an elected official to serve, she said.

This is different because three of the four impacted authority members were appointed by former commissioners or council, she said.

County Councilman Stephen A. Urban kept the fourth impacted seat because he was previously on the authority board as a commissioner.

"Because we are not setting aside the will of the public as voters, I feel comfortable asking the court to resolve this dispute," she wrote.

A county council majority voted Tuesday to ask Lawton to file the court action. Council had unsuccessfully asked the four members to give up their seats because the state never approved pre-home rule article of incorporation changes amending the board's makeup.

The district and state attorney general have authority to challenge vacancies, county solicitors say.

Lawton also has legal standing to seek the vacancies because the home rule charter says he fills authority seats previously held by the three commissioners.

If the court agrees the four seats should be vacated, Lawton could choose to fill a seat himself and leave the other two former commissioner slots empty. He also could appoint others to fill some or all three seats.

Also, an assistant county engineer would return to the authority board.

In addition to Urban, the impacted board members are citizens William Falls, Doug Ayers and Kevin O'Brien.

Scranton attorney Christopher Cullen was hired as authority solicitor last week.

The five-member authority oversees the Wyoming Valley Levee System and other flood control projects. County officials say county Planning/Zoning Director Adrian Merolli is the only member with no seat validity issues.

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