WILKES-BARRE — City council Tuesday selected new leadership at its annual reorganizational meeting and named Tony Brooks as chairman and Mike Belusko as vice chairman.
Brooks, the only Republican on the five-member elected body, had been vice chairman last year. He and Belusko joined council in 2016 and are in the third year of their four-year terms.
“It has been, as we said, difficult this year and I’m sure we’ll have difficult votes again, but rest assure all five of us have independent minds and we all respect each other well,” Brooks said.
He listed his top priorities as assisting with economic development, providing public safety and continuing to enforce the Quality of Life ordinance.
“I think if we work towards those goals, we will have a great city,” Brooks said.
Belusko and Brooks joined with other council members who complimented outgoing chairwoman Beth Gilbert for her leadership.
“I think you did a fine job. 2017 I thought was an extremely hard, extremely hard year on us as far as the tough votes that we had to make. We weren’t always on the same side of it. I respected your vote as you did mine. I think you did a fine job,” Belusko said.
Under the new leadership, council approved holiday and meeting schedules for 2018.
For the first time since the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday was officially observed in 1986, City Hall will be closed Jan. 15.
Angel Jirau applauded the move. “It’s a memorable day. I hope it goes on,” said Jirau, who has addressed council numerous times in support of the holiday.
Two of the city’s four unions have switched one of their 12 paid holidays included in their collective bargaining agreements — Laborer’s International Union of North America Local 1310, representing City Hall workers and paramedics; and International Association of Fire Fighters Local 104. The Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 401, representing Department of Public Works employees, have not agreed to swap a holiday.
Councilman Bill Barrett raised concerns that the city would be adding a 13th holiday at a time when it’s struggling to balance its budget.
But city Administrator Ted Wampole assured him the DPW and police will be working on MLK Day under the terms of their contracts that list 12 paid holidays.