J. Allen Nesbitt’s departure as Luzerne County Correctional Services division head will leave a void, several county council members said after his resignation announcement Tuesday.
Councilman Eugene Kelleher said evidence comes from the “lack of problems” in the county prison system during Nesbitt’s nearly three years at the helm.
“Al, you did a great job. We’re going to miss you,” Kelleher said.
Rick Williams concurred with his council colleague, saying it’s a “sad day.”
“You’ve really set a standard for fine public service at a high management level,” Williams said.
Councilman Harry Haas said he did not vote for Nesbitt’s confirmation to the $75,000 position in May 2013.
“It was one of those votes that I really regretted. I’d like to vote no against your resignation,” Haas said.
County acting Manager C. David Pedri said Nesbitt has an “unmatched” knowledge of corrections and assisted with other management issues beyond the prison.
“He was always open for suggestions, full of ideas and a team player,” Pedri said.
Nesbitt told the council he had turned down several other outside employment offers solely out of his commitment to prior county manager Robert Lawton, who resigned the end of 2015, and his belief in Lawton’s “ideas and leadership” to improve the county.
“Unlike some, who I believe did not truly get to know him, I enjoyed his sometimes sardonic demeanor because I felt I was allowed to challenge him philosophically on the issues and that he actually appreciated that interchange of ideas,” Nesbitt said of Lawton.
“I always believed I had his full support primarily because he had extensive knowledge and experience in corrections and freely shared that with me while not imposing it on me,” he said.
Nesbitt said he believes the correctional management has developed and now “sees the bigger picture of where we need to go to keep getting better.”
Cooperation and “mutual respect” between management and unionized prison workers is at an “all-time high,” he said.
At $34.1 million, the prison system is the largest single department expense in the county’s $130.2 million general fund operating budget.
Nesbitt said the prison staff has become better at managing its allotment and predicted the prison will end 2015 with a $1 million surplus.
His resignation takes effect March 4.
Pedri said Wednesday he expects to appoint Deputy Warden James Larson as acting warden/division head. Nesbitt said Larson, a 36-year county employee, always maintains the best interest of the county and staff and has been his “right-hand man.”
Nesbitt recommended Treatment Coordinator Grace Franks as acting deputy warden, saying she has “done some amazing things while working in a facility that limits space and opportunities.”
Nesbitt’s resignation creates a second vacancy among the eight division head posts required by the county’s home rule charter. The operational services division head position has been vacant since Tanis Manseau abruptly resigned in October.
Pedri said he recently interviewed three finalists for the operational services position and is determining if he will recommend a nominee to the council or readvertise the position.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.