Stephen A. Urban has asked his fellow Luzerne County Council members to hold off on tonight's scheduled vote vacating four of five county Flood Protection Authority seats -- including his own -- until they seek an independent legal opinion.
County Solicitor Vito DeLuca recently advised council the appointments of four board members should be declared invalid because the state never approved an authority article of incorporation change initiated by the prior county administration.
The change attempted to alter the board's structure from three commissioners, the planning/zoning director and an assistant county engineer to five citizens. Three citizens were appointed, and Urban and Planning/Zoning Director Adrian Merolli remain on until their terms expire.
Urban, the authority chairman, said the incorporation change was "unnecessary" and said the authority's new composition was covered by a bylaw revision the authority approved in November, according to a letter he emailed Monday to council Chairman Tim McGinley.
The letter, written on behalf of the entire authority, asks council and county Manager Robert Lawton to take no action until an independent opinion is obtained from the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association's legal counsel.
"The authority remains willing to work with the county to resolve this matter," Urban wrote.
DeLuca said he exhaustively researched municipal authority law and is confident articles of incorporation are necessary to change the structure of an authority.
"The board sets their own bylaws for how they conduct their own affairs, but bylaws can't change who is appointed to serve or what the qualifications are for being appointed to the board," DeLuca said.
"Bylaws absolutely don't take precedence over articles of incorporation," he said.
With no state-approved corporation amendment, the authority must revert to its original structure, DeLuca said. Merolli would stay put. An assistant engineer would be added. The county's home rule charter says the three authority seats formerly held by commissioners must be appointed by the manager, subject to council confirmation.
DeLuca said he found case law indicating the new authority board won't have to ratify all decisions made by the board this year to date.
McGinley said council will discuss the matter before voting.
DeLuca said he will attend the meeting and present all options to council.
In addition to Urban, citizen board members William Falls, Doug Ayers and Kevin O'Brien would lose their seats if council votes to vacate the positions.
Luzerne County Council will hold a special meeting at 6:45 p.m. today in the courthouse jury room on the second floor to discuss the Flood Protection Authority.
Luzerne County has advertised a purchasing director position vacated when Frank Pugliese recently resigned to accept another job.
The position pays $40,000 to $50,000. Resumes are due Oct. 10.
Details about the requirements are posted under the "career opportunities" link of the county website, www.luzernecounty.org.