Luzerne County officials set salary range for county manager job advertisement

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | January 27th, 2016 7:11 pm

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

An unusually broad salary range — $96,565 to $175,572 — will be advertised for the Luzerne County manager position because the county council unanimously decided Tuesday to stick with the compensation wording in the home rule charter.

The citizen manager search committee had proposed advertising the position at $140,000 to $160,000.

The committee’s maximum stemmed from the council’s decision to budget $160,000 for the position in 2016.

The committee concluded $140,000 was an appropriate minimum based on a review of compensation for county managers in similar counties, committee Chairman Michael Giamber told the council.

Prior manager Robert Lawton had received $110,000.

But Councilman Eugene Kelleher questioned if the ad should “conflict” with charter language.

The charter says the salary can’t exceed the elected district attorney’s compensation or be less than 55 percent of the district attorney’s salary.

The district attorney’s salary was budgeted at $178,800 in 2016 anticipating it would be increased to that amount, but county Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz said Wednesday the district attorney will be paid $175,572 this year.

Councilwoman Kathy Dobash told her colleagues she was concerned about “locking” the county into the $140,000 minimum.

“I think it should be negotiated, based on experience,” Dobash said.

Kelleher cautioned using the charter language would push the salary beyond the budgeted cap for the next manager.

“But we’re not staying firm here that this is the salary,” Dobash said.

After lengthy debate, a council majority also agreed Tuesday that the next manager must be selected from the top three finalists recommended by the committee.

The committee will furnish an additional finalist to council if one of the three it recommends drop out, but it won’t continue to provide new batches of names if the council is not satisfied with the finalists. Committee members said their work would be meaningless if the council does not choose one of their finalists. The special outside committee was created under home rule to remove politics from the manager hiring.

Councilman Robert Schnee proposed requiring the committee to provide the council with at least five finalists, saying the elected council should have more options, but a majority did not support that idea.

Another proposal from Councilman Rick Williams: Remove any set number of finalists and leave it up to the committee to decide how many highly qualified applicants should be forwarded to the council.

Williams said he wanted to give the committee flexibility because it may conclude seven stand out or only three.

“We want their expertise,” said Williams, who was unable to convince a majority to back the proposal.

Giamber said he believes three is “more than enough” and warned that failing to require a set number could allow the committee to recommend only one finalist.

“I have a problem with that,” Schnee said repeatedly.

The committee halted plans to start advertising the position Feb. 1 because of changes in the job description and advertisement approved by the council Tuesday. The committee will meet at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss its plans.

A council majority also agreed Tuesday to fill the fifth search committee seat, which was vacated earlier this month when Robert Fisher unexpectedly resigned to take an out-of-state job assignment. Council members plan to select one of the three citizens who had applied — Jim Haggerty, Melia Molinaro or Christopher B. Slusser — after contacting them to determine if they are still interested.

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