Former Luzerne County elected officials Walter Griffith and Stephen J. Urban have created a Facebook page as part of a quest to collect 5,000 signatures needed to place a home rule study question on the May 15 primary election ballot.
“It will be very, very difficult, but at least we will try,” said Griffith, who lost his bid to reclaim the county controller seat in November.
Griffith said the social media page — accessible by searching “Luzerne County Government Study Commission 2018” on Facebook — also is administered by Urban, a prior county councilman who also unsuccessfully attempted to return to the seat in this year’s general election.
Voter signatures are necessary to proceed because a county council majority voted Dec. 12 to reject county Councilman Edward Brominski’s proposal to place the study question on the ballot.
The proposed question would ask voters if they want to elect a seven-member commission to study the county’s home rule government structure, which has been in effect since January 2012. If the commission determines changes are warranted, it would draft and recommend a new home rule charter that would then require voter approval for adoption.
Griffith and others spearheading the signature push chose a ballot question that forces the commission to keep a customized home rule structure, ruling out an option to return to the prior system that had been in effect more than 150 years.
Under the current structure, 11 council members and an appointed manager make decisions previously handled by three elected commissioners and several elected row officers.
Griffith said he obtained a county assistant solicitor’s opinion that 3,722 signatures would be needed to get the question on the ballot, or five percent of the 74,436 county votes cast in the last state governor’s race. However, he is shooting for 5,000 to leave a cushion in case some signatures are successfully contested.
He also sent the proposed ballot question to the county election office for a courtesy review. The office flagged a minor detail, which was corrected, Griffith said.
A copy of the petition has been posted on the Facebook page for voter review. Any county registered voters can sign the petition, regardless of their political affiliation. Interested voters must email [email protected] or post a message on the site to make arrangements to sign because their signatures must appear on a petition that is officially circulated by someone who completes a notarized affidavit.
Signatures can be collected between Jan. 2 and Feb. 20, Griffith said.
Petition organizers also are holding a kick-off meeting to distribute petitions at 3 p.m. on Jan. 6 at Norm’s Pizza, 275 N. Sherman St., Wilkes-Barre.
Approximately seven people have agreed to circulate petitions to date, Griffith said.
If the signature requirement is met, candidates interested in serving on the study commission must gather signatures and present nomination petitions to appear on the May ballot.
Griffith said he believes the study question would have a strong chance of passing because it does not attempt to throw out home rule.
“I don’t think the home rule charter in its entirety is bad, but sections need to be fixed,” he said.
Critics of the ballot question have argued six years under the new system is not enough time to effectively evaluate its successes and shortcomings.
Past suggested home rule alterations have included reducing the council’s size, switching the manager to an elected post and restoring more power to the elected controller.