Luzerne County home rule ballot question may not be sought for November general election

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
Luzerne County Courthouse -

Walter Griffith said he won’t spearhead an effort to place a home rule study question on Luzerne County’s November general election ballot, although he will help if someone else wants to take charge.

“I’ll be there to advise, but I am not going to oversee it again. It is a monumental task,” said Griffith, a former county controller.

In late January, he canceled a push to add the question to the May primary ballot due to a lack of petition signatures.

Griffith and other volunteers had obtained approximately 900 of the 3,722 voter signatures needed to get the question on the ballot. The threshold is set at 5 percent of the 74,436 county votes cast in the last state governor’s race.

He had blamed the lackluster signature response on cold weather, delayed assistant county solicitor response on when petitions could be circulated and the cumbersome explanation required when voters were asked to sign.

But Griffith said Wednesday a shortage of people willing to hit the streets and events to collect signatures also was a major contributing factor. He said he does not want to be left holding the bag again with only a small group of volunteers.

“Last time, not as many people stepped up as needed to get it done,” he said.

Ballot question petitions for the general election can be circulated from June 19 to Aug. 7, he said. Warmer weather and more political functions related to contested general election races should make the collection process doable, he said.

He posted a message on his Facebook page June 1 encouraging someone to take charge of the initiative, asking them to private message him or email him at [email protected] if they are interested.

The ballot question crafted earlier this year would have asked 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 determined changes were warranted, it would draft and recommend a new charter requiring voter approval for adoption.

Griffith and others involved in that effort had selected a ballot question that would force 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.

In his social media post, Griffith said the current structure is “broken,” warranting analysis by a commission.

“The petition process is a huge undertaking by the citizens but can and must be done to stop this “runaway train” called home rule,” he wrote.

Under the current system, 11 council members and an appointed manager make decisions previously handled by three elected commissioners and several elected row officers. 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.

Ballot question critics have argued more time should pass to effectively evaluate the structure’s successes and shortcomings.

Griffith asserts the manager wields too much power under home rule that is not always kept in check by a council majority.

Luzerne County Courthouse County Courthouse

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.