Luzerne County government managers hired in the future must live in the county if a proposed residency requirement passes.
County Councilman Edward Brominski’s proposed ordinance amending the personnel code was discussed at last week’s council work session and may be introduced Feb. 23.
The amendment would require managers hired to oversee the county and its departments and divisions to live in the county within three months.
The requirement would not apply to current employees.
Brominski had raised the residency issue last month, complaining that prior county manager Robert Lawton and two of the county’s eight division heads did not purchase residences here.
County Assistant Solicitor Shannon Crake has stressed the county can’t force employees to become county property owners. Rented apartments must qualify as residences under the proposed requirement, she said.
“Residency under the law is where you sleep and get your mail and maybe where your driver’s license is registered,” Crake said. “It’s your domicile, your main abode.”
Brominski’s initial proposal last month to require the next top manager to live in the county did not pass due to concerns about its legality.
A residency requirement imposed on a single employee likely would be deemed unconstitutional if challenged, Crake told the council.
She pointed to a September court ruling about Nanticoke’s home rule residency requirement. A county judge concluded it was unconstitutional to force only the manager and one part-time employee to live in the city but not police, fire, public works and other clerical workers.
The county’s home rule charter does not contain any residency requirements for employees.
Brominski’s new proposal addresses Crake’s concerns by covering all management employees.
It says the county wants to encourage employees to “maintain a personal commitment to a residence” in the county and “assure all residents that employees share in the responsibility of investing in the future” of the county.
The requirement also would assure managers will be “readily physical accessible” during emergencies or “critical situations” in their department or division or the county at large, the proposal says.
Crake said she believes the new version would hold up to a legal challenge. Council members can extend the three-month requirement to six months, which appears to be the more common deadline among government entities, she said.
Councilman Rick Williams said last week he does not believe he will support the proposal, saying a top-ranking management applicant may live “just over the line.”
“I feel like we shouldn’t be restricting ourselves unnecessarily,” Williams said.
Brominski also proposed a resolution prohibiting county Acting Manager C. David Pedri from entering into professional service contracts or filling division head positions, saying such decisions should be reserved for the next manager.
He also wants to void any hirings made since Lawton’s departure on Dec. 31, except for those at the prison and in human service divisions.
Several council members said they would not support the resolution if it comes up for a vote based on a warning from Crake.
Crake said the resolution would conflict with the charter, which says the acting manager has the same authority and powers as the permanent manager.
Councilman Harry Haas said the council must provide final confirmation of any division heads. Lawton also left the county with an “overabundance” of positions that should be filled, Haas said. He said he does not want to prevent Pedri from ensuring the county is staffed “to get county operations up to par and up to speed.”
Pedri said last week he is trying to step up the filling of more than 60 positions to address problems with short staffing in many departments.
Two division head positions are open. J. Allen Nesbitt resigned as correctional services overseer last week. The operational services division head position has been vacant since Tanis Manseau abruptly resigned in October.
Pedri 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. The correctional division head position will be advertised soon, he said.
Applications for the county manager position are due March 4. An outside citizen manager search committee tentatively plans to submit three finalists to the council for its consideration in April.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.