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Flood panel controversy likely to get court action

February 17. 2013 8:54AM
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A disagreement over the eligibility of four Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority members will be resolved in court.

A county council majority voted Tuesday to ask county Manager Robert Lawton to file court action attempting to force four of five authority members to vacate their unpaid seats.

"Make no mistake. I will proceed," Lawton told council.

Councilman Jim Bobeck made the motion, saying the county can't knowingly allow board members with "no standing" to continue serving.

Council 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 make-up.

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

If Lawton prevails in court, he could choose to fill a seat himself and leave the other former commissioner slots empty. He also could appoint others to fill some or all three seats.

An assistant county engineer also would return to the authority board.

The four impacted authority members are former commissioner Stephen A. Urban, now a county councilman, and citizens William Falls, Doug Ayers and Kevin O'Brien. The authority supports county Solicitor Vito DeLuca's recommendation to allow the four to serve while the state amendments are resubmitted.

A council majority rejected that option, saying it won't ignore the procedural error.

"We can't change the rules to fit the people, no matter how good they are," said Council Vice Chair Linda McClosky Houck.

Bobeck said council can't modify the articles "to right a wrong."

The authority has hired Scranton attorney Christopher Cullen who disagrees with DeLuca's assertion that an authority solicitor can't defend the members against litigation seeking their removal.

County Solicitor David Schwager said it could take months for a judge to decide the matter. Bobeck said the court may opt to expedite a ruling because voting seats on an authority are involved.

Urban and Councilmen Stephen J. Urban and Edward Brominski opposed the motion.

Brominski said Lawton should fill the seats without going to court, but Lawton said county solicitors advised against that.

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.

Lawton decides not to register to vote

Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton won't be voting in the upcoming general election.

Lawton said he was registered to vote when he lived in California, but not under any political party.

He chose to be "entirely removed" from any political party or political process in Luzerne County, saying he "thought it best."

"I made a conscious decision not to register," he said Tuesday.

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