The following editorial appeared in the Wilkes- Barre Citizens’ Voice. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune- Democrat.
Luzerne County’s Home Rule Charter was drafted 11 years ago amid a far-reaching public corruption probe that sent three county judges and a county commissioner to federal prison. More than two dozen other officials and contractors were also charged in various play-to-play schemes involving local governments and school districts.
For the Luzerne County Government Study Commission that produced and promoted the charter, curbing the entrenched cronyism that fostered that culture of corruption was paramount.
The charter approved by voters in November 2010 set strict guidelines restricting county employees, former and current county officials and people doing business with the county from serving on its numerous boards, authorities and commissions.
The concept remains sound. But the recent difficulty in finding a qualified candidate to chair the county Election Board raises the question of whether some of the charter’s restrictions should be revisited.
The four members of the Election Board appointed by the county council had to postpone naming a fifth member to serve as chairman after the county solicitor determined all three applicants had conflicts that would bar them from serving.
Under the charter, in the four years prior to appointment, no board member may have held elective office or worked for government on any level, sat on a county authority, board or commission, worked as a contractor or consultant with the county or served as an officer of a political party.
It is true that recent controversy on the Election Board has probably scared away some qualified candidates. Last month, the county council removed two board members after they tried, in clear violation of the charter, to place a council member and fellow Republican in the chairmanship while the two Democratic seats on the board were vacant.
That case shows home rule hasn’t totally removed blatant political maneuvering from the courthouse.
Still, barring someone who might have served on a school board or borough council three years ago from volunteering for public service on a county level seems overly broad, as does the restriction on contractors.
Would it be a corruption risk for someone whose company sells tires to the Luzerne County Transportation Authority to serve on the county Farmland Preservation Board?
The charter has done an admirable job in establishing a more efficient and transparent system of county government, but perhaps it is time to consider whether some of its more restrictive measures are denying the county some useful expertise.
Charter amendments can be placed on the ballot by a council majority for approval by voters. In fact, voters approved four amendments in 2016, including removing a restriction on county contractors or their employees serving on authorities. The same year, voters rejected a similar amendment that would have done the same for county boards and commissions.
One of the advantages of home rule is the ability to reevaluate and adjust the county charter. With a coming election to fill five of the 11 county council seats this year, now is an opportune moment to reopen the debate on some of the charter’s restrictions on county service, both in front of council and before the voters.
It might be time to strike a new balance.