Eligibility of Luzerne County Election Board member questioned

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
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Luzerne County Election Board member Gerald J. Hudak Sr.’s eligibility to serve was questioned during Thursday’s board meeting.

Walter Griffith, a former county controller, said Hudak had received more than $10,000 in county government payments from 2010 through 2015 for performing sewer treatment work at Moon Lake Park before the county transferred ownership of the Plymouth Township recreational facility to the state in October 2015.

The county’s home rule charter prohibits the county council from appointing citizens to the election board if they served as a paid consultant for the county or were compensated by a county contractor at the time they were appointed, for a period of at least four years prior to appointment or during their election board term, Griffith told the board.

Hudak, who was appointed by the council in March 2014, did not attend Thursday’s meeting. Reached on his cell phone Thursday night, Hudak said he is certain he disclosed the Moon Lake payments to county officials at the time he applied for the unpaid seat but could not recall the specifics. He said he presumed his eligibility was cleared and will review the matter with county officials. He declined further comment.

Prospective board appointees now must complete questionnaires to flag charter conflicts, but none was on file for Hudak, officials said. His resume says he owns Pollution Control of Nanticoke Inc. and is a wastewater operator/consultant and active in many community organizations.

Former county councilman Stephen J. Urban, who was unable to attend the 4:30 p.m. board meeting due to his work schedule, said he discovered the payment to Hudak while reviewing the administration’s newly released chart showing how the county’s natural gas recreation funding allocations have been spent. Urban said he would have detected the payments, listed under Gerald J. Hudak Sr., sooner if the administration had provided a more timely response to Councilwoman Kathy Dobash’s requests for a breakdown of natural gas spending.

The chart says Hudak received a total $13,780 from 2012 through 2015.

Urban served on the council at the time of Hudak’s appointment and voted for him but said the conflict was never disclosed. Several current council members said they were unaware of county payments to Hudak.

“My biggest question is why this was not disclosed,” Urban said, calling for Hudak to resign.

County assistant solicitor Michael Butera, who represents the five-member election board, told Griffith he had never received notice of county payments to Hudak and will alert the county council and administration on Friday.

Hudak is filling one of two Democratic seats on the board, which oversees county elections. The charter also requires two Republican members and a fifth with no required affiliation who must be selected by the other four members.

The board is starting preparations for the May 16 primary, which will contain an estimated 891 ballot nomination slots, said Election Director Marisa Crispell.

Voters approved a home rule charter amendment in November that allows employees of companies with county contracts to serve on authorities at the council’s discretion following public disclosure and discussion.

However, a similar proposed amendment allowing discretion over board and commission appointments failed to pass in November.

The ballot questions stemmed from complaints some qualified citizens were turned away from serving due to the charter ban. Critics said the ban should remain in effect to prevent any appearance of questionable ties and connections.

The election board adjourned Thursday’s meeting before voting on any business because citizen Brian Shiner pointed out the meeting was publicly advertised the day before and did not meet legal open meeting requirements. Board members said they will re-advertise the meeting at a later date, but they allowed public comment at the request of Griffith.

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https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/web1_Walter.Griffith.jpgGriffith

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

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

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