Rick Morelli appointed to vacant Luzerne County Council seat

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Seven Luzerne County Council members voted Tuesday to appoint Rick Morelli to a vacant council seat during an on-the-road meeting at the Back Mountain Regional EMA building in Lehman Township. Councilman Stephen A. Urban, in the first seat, was the lone vote against Morelli’s nomination in the final confirmation decision. Seven Luzerne County Council members voted Tuesday to appoint Rick Morelli to a vacant council seat during an on-the-road meeting at the Back Mountain Regional EMA building in Lehman Township. Councilman Stephen A. Urban, in the first seat, was the lone vote against Morelli’s nomination in the final confirmation decision. -

LEHMAN TWP. — Rick Morelli will return to Luzerne County Council to fill a seat vacated by Eugene Kelleher, seven council members decided Tuesday.

Morelli, 48, of Sugarloaf Township, who works in software sales and has an MBA in finance, has said he applied because he supports home rule and was involved from its start serving on the elected commission that drafted the charter, the transition committee and county council from 2012 through 2015.

He also said he has the background needed to play an active role in upcoming deliberations about the 2020 budget and proposed borrowing.

Morelli, who did not attend the meeting, issued this statement: “I appreciate council’s confidence in selecting me to fill Mr. Kelleher’s open seat. I look forward to working with all of the council members in the upcoming months along with once again serving the people of Luzerne County.”

The other eligible Republican applicants interested in serving the rest of Kelleher’s term through Jan. 6 were Reed J. Dunn Jr., Anthony Ryba Jr. and Michael G. Vacendak.

Only eight council members voted on the appointment during the on-the-road meeting at the Back Mountain Regional EMA building in Lehman Township because Matthew Vough was unable to attend and Robert Schnee abstained from voting, citing a conflict.

The council members supporting Morelli’s appointment were Patrick Bilbow, Harry Haas, Chris Perry, Tim McGinley, Sheila Saidman, Jane Walsh Waitkus and Linda McClosky Houck.

Urban voted against the appointment. He and McClosky Houck had initially supported Vacendak, the only other applicant to be nominated, but McClosky Houck voted for Morelli in the final round officially confirming the appointment.

McGinley thanked all applicants for stepping up and described them as “very professional.”

Candidate ban

A council majority also rejected an ordinance amendment Tuesday that would have prohibited county council candidates from filling council vacancies that arise while they are on the ballot.

Assistant Solicitor Shannon Crake Lapsansky presented a legal opinion that such a change would rise to the level of a county home rule charter amendment that must be placed on an election ballot for voter approval.

Allowing council to make the change by “merely passing an ordinance” would open the door to “easily” make other changes to prohibit an applicant/candidate “they do not like from obtaining an appointment on county council or conversely providing additional support to an applicant/candidate that is favored,” the opinion said.

McClosky Houck, Haas and Urban were the lone votes to proceed with the ordinance change.

Council candidate Walter Griffith, who pushed for the ban, complained that the legal opinion was not publicly posted before Tuesday’s meeting. He argued the prohibition is needed to prevent council from showing “partiality” to a candidate and the appearance of impropriety.

All five Republican council contenders on the ballot decided not to apply for the vacancy.

In other business, the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce asked to delay council work session discussion about its Keystone Opportunity Zone extension request until the Aug. 27 meeting, in part so additional information can be compiled, McGinley said.

The chamber is seeking a 10-year tax break extension on a Wright Township property it wants to sell for a new construction project.

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https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/web1_Morelli.jpeg-3.jpgMorelli

Seven Luzerne County Council members voted Tuesday to appoint Rick Morelli to a vacant council seat during an on-the-road meeting at the Back Mountain Regional EMA building in Lehman Township. Councilman Stephen A. Urban, in the first seat, was the lone vote against Morelli’s nomination in the final confirmation decision.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/web1_TTL081419CountyCouncil_3.jpgSeven Luzerne County Council members voted Tuesday to appoint Rick Morelli to a vacant council seat during an on-the-road meeting at the Back Mountain Regional EMA building in Lehman Township. Councilman Stephen A. Urban, in the first seat, was the lone vote against Morelli’s nomination in the final confirmation decision. Bill Tarutis | For Times Leader

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.