After investing nearly six years in Luzerne County’s new home rule government, local architect Rick Williams said he has made the “difficult decision” not to seek a third term on county council.
He is among six council members in office since the January 2012 switch to a customized government structure, which replaced a system in effect more than 150 years.
Williams said he wanted to free up time for other pursuits, although he plans to continue keeping tabs on county government after his term runs out this year. He is optimistic because he believes some viable incumbents and newcomers are running for the five open seats.
“I’m comfortable with my decision,” said the 69-year-old Kingston resident, admitting to a tinge of second-guessing.
He made history as the first Independent-registered elected county official.
His election to county office also carried a personal sacrifice because Williams had to sell his ownership interest in Williams, Kinsman & Lewis Architecture to serve. Breaking ties was necessary because the business had a small contract with the county Housing Authority, which would have precluded him from serving on council due to a home rule charter ban, he said.
“I don’t regret it at all,” Williams said in reference to holding county office. “It’s been challenging and frustrating, but it’s been a nice chapter in my life. It’s been an honor to serve.”
Unlike Democrats and Republicans, Independent and third-party contenders file paperwork to get on the ballot after the May primary, and the sign-up deadline was this month.
Williams said he never envisioned himself in public office and had been encouraging others to run for the first council in 2011. One of them questioned why he wasn’t practicing what he preached.
“I sort of fell into this when I shot my mouth off,” he said, laughing.
He has stressed a record of voting his conscience, popular or not. He was particularly satisfied with successful pushes to implement a ban on open burning of plastic and rubber; a policy requiring outside boards and nonprofits receiving county funding to disclose more information about their own finances; and a mandate for new developments to include bicycle lanes and bicycle/pedestrian paths in municipalities covered by the county’s subdivision and land development ordinance.
Williams also had supported in-house tax collection — a plan later reversed — and chairs the county’s strategic initiatives committee, which is developing future priorities and goals.
His reputation for asking a lot of questions at meetings and pressing for discussion on “quality of life issues” occasionally irks some colleagues and audience members. While some of his suggestions may seem pie-in-the-sky or less pressing — a push for passenger rail service to New York City or a ban on smoking and high-sugar vending machine drinks on county property, for example — he persists.
“A portion of county focus should be on long-range vision and ideas that will pay off in 10 to 20 years,” he said. “By advocating them, it raises people’s consciousness about how wonderful this place is and how more wonderful it can be.”
Under home rule, 11 elected council members and an appointed manager handle decisions previously made by the three elected commissioners and several row officers.
Council members Stephen A. Urban, Edward Brominski, Tim McGinley, Harry Haas and Linda McClosky Houck also have served since the start of home rule. The terms of Haas and McClosky Houck expire the end of this year, and both are seeking re-election. Council members receive $8,000 annually.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.