Acting county manager not worried by new planning director’s past professional discipline

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | April 5th, 2016 8:00 am

James Ferry suspended as lawyer nine years ago

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Luzerne County’s new planning and zoning director had his law license suspended in 2007 when he previously worked as an attorney.

County acting Manager C. David Pedri, who ultimately selected Hazleton resident James Ferry for the position, said the suspension is irrelevant because Ferry isn’t being hired as a county lawyer.

“He is eminently qualified and competent to be director of planning,” Pedri said.

At least seven applied for the job, officials said.

Pedri said he did not participate in the screening process. A panel of employees interviewed several applicants and recommended Ferry as the top finalist, he said.

Ferry was open about the suspension and said he decided to pursue another career instead of reapplying for his law license, Pedri said.

“We’re talking about issues that occurred nine years ago,” Pedri said.

The state Supreme Court, at the recommendation of its disciplinary board, had issued a 21-month suspension of Ferry’s law license in December 2007, based on his alleged mishandling of eight cases in his private practice.

The petition attached to the order accused him of violating professional conduct rules by misusing funds and failing to account for funds, comply with court orders and make timely restitution of unearned fees and costs.

He also failed to proceed appropriately in the estate, bankruptcy and family law cases and did not advise clients he had left his law practice and provide them with his contact information, the petition said.

Ferry signed an affidavit in July 2007 acknowledging the material facts in the petition and consenting to the discipline. His psychologist wrote a letter, which was attached to the still-publicly posted petition, stating that Ferry’s Attention Deficit Disorder and other mental health conditions affected his behavior.

Ferry, who started in the $62,000-a-year county management position April 1, said Monday he appreciates the new opportunity and does not believe issues involving his work in a different career years ago should be held against him today.

“I’m very pleased to have this opportunity and am really confident I’ll be able to do a good job at this,” Ferry said.

Topping Ferry’s resume for the county position was his current employment as a code enforcement supervisor and zoning enforcement officer for Hazleton city government.

In this position, Ferry said he supervised daily operations of Hazleton’s code and planning department, which employs six code officers, two administration staffers and vector control. He oversaw personnel, scheduling, budgeting and policy implementation, it said.

Ferry, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science in addition to his law degree, also listed current work as a legal studies instructor at the McCann School of Business & Technology in Wilkes-Barre and as a benefits consultant. He said Monday he may continue teaching a class if time allows but is giving up other outside employment to concentrate on his new position.

He also worked as a community outreach manager at The Arc of Luzerne County assisting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities from 2008 through 2011.

Pedri also has hired two new analysts for the planning and zoning office: Daniel Butch, Forty Fort, and James R. Weber, Butler Township.

The new employees will allow the office to complete more work in-house and speed up reviews of planning and zoning documents required for economic development, Pedri said. The office has been “underutilized” since Adrian Merolli’s retirement as planning/zoning director in December 2013, after four decades of county employment, Pedri said.

“The county is looking forward to doing some great things out of this office,” Pedri said.

Weber has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He held various engineering and manufacturing management positions from 1973 to 1999, owned and operated a home inspection company from 1999 to 2014 and has held several municipal zoning/code enforcement officer positions in recent years, his resume says.

Butch, who has a master’s degree in geography and planning, completed internship and volunteer work in the Geographic Information Systems field and has worked as a scheduler/suspension coordinator/dispatcher at the Luzerne County Transportation Authority since June, according to his resume.

Lee Puskar has been overseeing the office since temporary director Nancy Snee retired as metropolitan planning coordinator in December. Puskar will return to his former role as senior GIS analyst in the county mapping/GIS department, Pedri said last week in an email to the council.

“Mr. Puskar is a shining example for all county employees of what we can be when faced with a challenge. Instead of hiding from responsibility, he stepped forward and led by example. The county is bettered by his efforts,” Pedri wrote.

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