Question of Luzerne County home rule changes on Tuesday’s council agenda

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -




By Jennifer Learn-Andes




A movement to change Luzerne County’s home rule government or go back to the old structure is scheduled for discussion at Tuesday’s Luzerne County Council meeting.

Kathy Dobash told her county council colleagues last week she wants to introduce an ordinance placing a question on the election ballot asking county voters if they want to form a new government study commission.

A similar approach occurred in 2009, when prior commissioners passed an ordinance placing the study commission question on the ballot so citizens would not be forced to collect signatures.

“Individuals in the county are interested to either change the current home rule government or go back to the county code. There have been gatherings discussing both possibilities,” Dobash wrote in an email to the council.

Tuesday’s council meeting agenda includes a vote to introduce Dobash’s proposed ordinance.

Voters will be free to change the county government structure after home rule’s fifth anniversary in January 2017. The county has a legal opinion saying a study commission could be formed before the five years is up.

The five-year moratorium on home rule changes was included in the law to give new government structures time to be implemented and assessed.

The county ’s customized home rule set-up, implemented in January 2012, replaced a system in effect more than 150 years, putting 11 elected council members and an appointed manager in charge of decisions previously made by three elected commissioners and several elected row officers.

Citizen Walter Griffith also sent the council emails supporting a ballot question.

Griffith said a new study group would determine if the current structure — as is or with changes — is better than the old one.

He supports tailored home rule because the rigid old commissioner system could not be altered without action by state legislators.

However, Griffith believes the current home rule structure should be changed to make the manager position an elected post, reduce the number of council members and increase the powers of the elected controller.

Dobash said she wants to place the matter on the primary ballot.

Griffith does not believe there’s enough time because the primary election is April 26 instead of in May. Citizens interested in serving on the study commission must be on the ballot the same time as the study question in case it passes, which means they need time to circulate and submit nomination petitions. He suggests waiting until the November general.

Study commissions have up to 18 months to decide if change is warranted and, if so, what new government option should be presented to voters for their consideration, the law says.

As he wrapped up his term on county council, Rick Morelli recently warned residents to be wary of a push to return to the old government system. Morelli, also a home rule charter drafter, pointed to progress under home rule and said a “group from the old guard” wants to “go back to the old ways” under the three-commissioner system.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

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