In our last poll I asked you if the home rule charter would be approved and it is a dead heat. Both sides are holding many events to persuade voters. The Yonk moderated an informational meeting with members of the study commission and WVIA had supporters James Haggerty and Rick Morelli and charter critics county Chief Solicitor Vito DeLuca and county Controller Walter Griffith debate the merits yesterday.
Even more events are scheduled. The details are on the pro and con websites.
Friends of Home Rule
Most ballot questions (bond issues for fire companies, etc.) pass easily for some reason which is why I usually vote no but this one is different. Luzerne County has a habit of voting down progress such as the last home rule charter that Skrep and Vondy said was unnecessary because we could trust them. Before that a group labeled itself Taxes No defeated a bond issue that would have given us a bigger Arena.
Former State Representative Kevin Blaum was the driving force in building the arena and favors the home rule charter.
In 16 days you get to decide the future of Luzerne County government. Will voters choose to remain where they are – stuck in a ditch and mired in muck – or will they break free from the past, turn out in large numbers, vote YES enthusiastically and usher in a new era of professional stewardship that your children and grandchildren so richly deserve? It is up to you.
One thing is certain; those in control of Luzerne County government and the power, benefits and contracts it bestows do not want the system changed. They and their political supporters will be out in force come Election Day. No amount of wind or rain will stop them. They intend to defeat your new constitution and its professional council-manager form of government used so widely throughout the United States. If they get their way, this wonderful regional opportunity will be lost and tragic fiction will be reality.
My inbox has been flooded with anti-home rule opinions but not one pro missive. Here is an anti view and I welcome guest posts from those of you who favor the charter.
While the opportunity continues to be available, I would like to offer another "guest post".
I have written letters to the editor numerous times and the bell that I'm trying to ring right now is the Home Rule warning bell.
Aside from a finance career in private industry, I worked in government for over 20 years including federal, county and local government. This appointed manger situation is the most dangerous threat to the taxpayers that has ever faced us.
The appointed manager will be the now often quoted "mini king". The manager will be appointed, not voted on and he will have powers and authority that no government official ever had or should have. He can hire and fire with no oversight. He can move money from one department to another without oversight. He can make contracts up to $25,000 without oversight. He can do these things behind closed doors and without the requirement of doing so at a public meeting. There are other powers he will have but I'll just address these few.
Appointed, not elected. This means that the voters and taxpayers of Luzerne County will be controlled by a public official that answers only to himself and the Council majority who appointed him. Kinda reminds me of a Superintendent of Schools but without public oversight and much more authority.
Let's take a closer look at these powers:
Authority to hire and fire. Having the absolute authority to hire and fire, what is to stop this manager from selling jobs such as happened in the school districts? What's to stop him from hiring friends and family, not just his own but those of the Council majority? What's to stop him from firing people who are a political pain to the Council Majority? This authority will allow majority Council members to get family members hired and then have the luxury of standing up and saying, "I didn't hire my son (or daughter), I don't have a vote. That Council member is correct, he does not have a vote on the hiring of relatives but he absolutely does have influence over the manager his Council majority hires. The appointed majority will always be in a position of intimidation by the Council majority and he will dance to their tune to keep his high paying job.
Authority to move money within departments. This would be like the current commissioners taking money out of the Road and Bridge department budget and moving it to the Clerk of Courts department. How does the Road and Bridge department operate effectively? This authority alone is enough to destroy county government.
Authority to make No Bid contracts up to $25,000. Isn't that a sweet deal? One man can spend up to $25,000 and the elected Council will have no input or oversight. There is a term used in government that is used to avoid public bids, it is called "Bid Splitting". An example would be an anticipated year's cost of office supplies to be $40,000. Bid Splitting would be issuing a contract for $20,000 and later writing a second contract for the remaining $20,000. Thus, the manager just made a deal that required no oversight because he stayed under the $25,000 maximum expenditure for a single transaction. But even without the danger of Bid Splitting, the manager can spend up to $25,000 for any item regardless of value for dollar spent. This is a major step backward. Look at the number of purchases made in the county each year that is over $10,000 but under $25,000. You will find that the number of transactions are staggering and we will now make those purchases without benefit of public bids. Absolutely unbelievable and terrifying for the taxpayers.
Perhaps it is time for Luzerne County to operate under Home Rule but this proposed Charter is not the vehicle to get the job done. An Eleven member Council with NO minority representation is simply a bad form of government. How can we possibly elect enough people to change the direction of an 11 member Council? Right now, we have one county commissioner (minority) watching the actions of two county commissioners and to make a change we simply have to elect one new Commissioner to effect a change. We can't control our school boards of nine members so how do we control a county Council of eleven members?
If you like the way your School Board operates, you will love Home Rule.