Some Luzerne County employees cried and hugged Carolee Medico Olenginski on Friday when word spread that county Manager Robert Lawton had his assistant deliver a dismissal letter instructing her to pack up her belongings and leave.
Other workers celebrated the news that she was officially gone as prothonotary, the county‚??s keeper of civil court records.
The stark difference is evidence of the love-hate sentiment toward the outspoken elected official, who has been portrayed as both a watchdog and obstructionist.
Medico Olenginski didn‚??t consider Lawton off-limits for scrutiny after he was hired in February, even though he was now her boss under home rule, which eliminated all elected row offices except the controller and district attorney.
She publicly questioned his decisions to delay a records storage plan and refuse a union position reclassification that would result in a pay increase for an employee.
In July she sent him an email, copied to county council members, about his ‚??unwarranted negative attitude.‚?Ě
She said he visited the office when she and the deputy were out and said loud enough for customers and employee to hear, ‚??I‚??m glad to see the office runs on its own.‚?Ě
Lawton planned to keep Medico Olenginski, at least initially, because he wanted her to contribute since she was guaranteed her annual $36,562 salary until her elected term expires at the end of 2013.
Medico Olenginski resisted suggestions from home rule supporters to relinquish the job and pay shortly before home rule was implemented in January, saying she was elected to run the civil records office and is willing to continue that assignment. She hasn‚??t changed that stance.
Lawton and Medico Olenginski appeared to reach a truce during last month‚??s department head meeting, when he told managers she would be spearheading an important examination of county documents and technology to reduce paper and increase public access to information.
Medico Olenginski‚??s deputy, Art Bobbouine, was assigned to address a record processing backlog in the clerk of courts office, which handles criminal court records. Home rule requires the civil and criminal court offices to merge for efficiency.
When Bobbouine started pulling staff from civil courts to help with the criminal backlog and making other decisions without her, Medico Olenginski complained that Lawton never told her she was no longer in charge of the office when she took the special assignment.
‚??He can do whatever he pleases, but if he had any integrity he would have been honest with me and told me that he didn‚??t want me in charge,‚?Ě she said Friday while cleaning out her office. ‚??How do you go behind somebody‚??s back and plot to take their authority away?‚?Ě
Lawton said in the dismissal letter, supplied by Medico Olenginski, that he tried several times to include Medico Olenginski in plans to reduce the criminal court backlog and office consolidation.
‚??Your communications on the matter since then, however, give me no reason to believe that you are fully committed to contributing to a solution on terms other than your own,‚?Ě he wrote, emphasizing the voters ‚??spoke in overwhelming fashion‚?Ě for a home rule government that includes a unified Division of Judicial Services and Records.
Lawton echoed that sentiment in his only public statement on the matter Friday.
‚??I believe Ms. Medico Olenginski served the public faithfully under the old government system. However, the organizational changes mandated by the new charter require a unified vision and a collaborative approach,‚?Ě he said.
Medico Olenginski, who now openly describes Lawton as a ‚??dictator,‚?Ě said she challenged changes that would cause civil courts to develop a record backlog, especially since her name appeared on office documents.
In her typically blunt style, she informed Lawton in a Sept. 7 email that civil court document processing was falling behind because workers were focusing on criminal court:
‚??Because of the irresponsible demands being placed on my employees by Mr. Bobbouine we are on our way to becoming as dysfunctional as the Clerk of Courts. It is disappointing after all our hard work that our productivity and efficiency is being compromised due to poor management skills outside my office,‚?Ě she wrote.
Medico Olenginski said Friday Lawton is unfairly painting her as working against the implementation of home rule.
‚??I asked the manager months ago to let me straighten out that office down the hall,‚?Ě she said, referring to clerk of courts. ‚??Is that being resistant?‚?Ě
County career highlights:
November 1998: Republican Carolee Medico Olenginski is elected to the prothonotary post
November 2001: Democrat Jill Moran unseats Medico Olenginski after a heated election battle. Moran spent $265,000 on the campaign, promising to end the ‚??negativity.‚?Ě
November 2005: Moran and Medico Olenginski face off again, with Moran winning a second term.
March 2009: Moran resigns as prothonotary as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors.
November 2009: Medico Olenginski beats Nancy McGinley Bellas in the prothonotary race.
November 2010: Voters approve a county home rule charter that eliminates the elected prothonotary post and all other row offices except the controller and district attorney.
October 2011: Medico Olenginski refuses a request from home rule supporters to voluntarily leave the post and relinquish the pay.
May 2012: Medico Olenginski loses a lawsuit attempting to restore the elected prothonotary post under home rule.
December 2013: Medico Olenginski‚??s pay will stop at the end of the month because her elected term expires.