Our View: Pedri’s retention was justified

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C. David Pedri has done a highly commendable job as Luzerne County’s manager, and we support the council majority who approved a new four-year employment agreement with Pedri earlier this week.

In voting his support, Councilman Eugene Kelleher said he has a lengthy list of Pedri’s accomplishments, including the additional assessment of more than $10 million in missed property through a new computer program and recouping of $166,000 from past homestead tax breaks that were improperly granted.

We would add a few more, discussed during a Times Leader interview with Pedri earlier this month: Implementing recommendations in a five-year financial recovery plan, repairing interior courthouse damage, obtaining settlements from baseball franchise litigation, moving records into a new, climate-controlled county facility, implementation of the first employee reviews for workers under his umbrella, online job applications, a free online assessment mapping database, and an updated website.

While we acknowledge the multi-million-dollar courthouse project was a costly undertaking, we agree with Pedri that it was necessary, justified and undertaken successfully. The building is not just essential to the functioning of critical government services, it is one of the county’s most historic and iconic structures.

An attorney by profession, Pedri also has brought competence, professionalism and dignity to an office which had seen its fair share of turmoil in recent years.

Councilman Robert Schnee said he hears positive public reviews about Pedri’s performance and credited Pedri for boosting employee morale and public trust in county government. We have heard broadly similar accounts.

While no administration can please everyone, including all of its own workers, Luzerne County Government certainly seems well run under Pedri.

All of that said, we also acknowledge some procedural and fiscal concerns raised by the three members who voted against the new agreement, and by some members of the public.

Citizens Brian Shiner and Mark Rabo criticized the contract, saying it was excessive and advanced too quickly without sufficient public review and comment.

Pedri currently receives $124,848 under an agreement that expires at the end of this year. Under the new agreement, he will receive a salary of $132,000 starting Jan. 1, 2019, as well as 2 percent raises on Jan. 1 in 2020, 2021 and 2022 and several bonus opportunities.

Pedri does have a lot on his plate. Under home rule, the manager approves many contracts, oversees day-to-day operations and hires and fires workers in most departments. The county has a $300 million budget, with human service branches included, 1,400 workers and more than 50 departments.

That is a lot to oversee, and professionalism comes at a price.

However, in a county where the median household income is $46,577 and an estimated 14.6 percent of residents live in poverty, according to U.S. Census data, $132,000 per year is a salary many people can only dream about.

Is Pedri earning it? Yes, from what we can see. But in an environment in which the average taxpayer sees meager annual raises — if at all — and real wages are stagnant or falling, we do question whether raises that will take Pedri to $140,080 by 2022 are somewhat out of step with the community at large.

Councilman Harry Haas put it best: Pedri is “doing a great job without a doubt,” but Haas does not believe a four-year manager agreement should be locked in.

Food for thought next time around.

— Times Leader

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