Six make pitches for vacant controller slot

June 24th, 2015 1:51 pm

First Posted: 8/22/2013

Luzerne County Council members spent three hours Thursday night publicly interviewing six county Republicans interested in completing the rest of Walter Griffith’s controller term the next four months.

The applicants: Peter Gagliardi, Wilkes-Barre; Malcolm Hudgeon, Wilkes-Barre; Aaron Kaufer, Kingston; Carolee Medico Olenginski, Mountain Top; Walter Mitchell, Bear Creek Village; and John Sokolowski, Plains Township.

Each spent up to a half hour discussing their qualifications and plans for the office.

Council members will choose an acting controller on Tuesday. The applicants’ resumes are posted at

The six contenders offered mixed views on the management style they’d bring to the position:

Mitchell said he “tries to focus on principles rather than personalities” and is not “abrasive.”

He would research the cause of problems and identify fixes, publicly alerting council if warranted.

“I can be forceful and forthright without being argumentative and adversarial,” he said. “I feel that there are better ways to handle a problem than by publicly airing our dirty laundry.”

Gagliardi said he had to develop a “productive working relationship” when he dealt with sailors and soldiers in the trenches and high-ranking military officers during prior employment at the U.S. Department of Defense

“I’m not looking for headlines. I’m not looking to make a political career out of this position,” he said.

Hudgeon said he is tenacious and would be the “eyes and ears for the people.”

He said he would try to identify the responsible person if he finds missing money and would consult authorities if he suspected theft.

Kaufer said the controller doesn’t have to be “butting heads” to be an effective independent watchdog.

He said he has strong communication skills and would work through problems and find solutions. He would alert both council and the manager if a problem is identified.

“We’re a team. We have to work together if we want to get our goals accomplished,” he said.

Medico Olenginski said she would fully research problems and has consulted experts in the past. She would notify management and council if her research indicates corrective action is warranted.

She said she has alerted investigatory agencies in the past when she found evidence of potential wrongdoing and would inform the media of concerns if management and/or county council failed to address them so the public is aware.

“If it falls on deaf ears, where else are you going to go?” she asked.

Sokolowski said the controller must “hold county leadership accountable” but also must be a “team member” to successfully complete tasks.

“Confrontation cannot be played out in the media,” he said. “If selected, I do not see my role as messaging county concerns to the press and creating a hostile environment.”

County Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri said all six met the requirement of being registered Republicans dating back to Nov. 3, 2009, when Griffith was elected. The applicants also consented to background checks, which will be completed by human resources, he said.

The position pays $1,406 every two weeks through Jan. 3, when the controller elected in November will take office.