C. David Pedri addressed criticism of his appointment as Luzerne County’s new top manager Wednesday while stressing he holds no grudges.
Council members Stephen A. Urban, Edward Brominski and Kathy Dobash walked out of Tuesday’s council meeting to protest Pedri’s hiring. Council Chairwoman Linda McClosky Houck also voted against the hiring, saying she “was not convinced” the manager search process should stop.
“I’m looking forward to working with all council members,” Pedri said Wednesday. “It’s time we put aside this pointing fingers at each other, and I hope they will join me in focusing on efforts for bettering Luzerne County.”
Urban had presented a series of reasons for opposing the appointment, including an allegation that Pedri failed to raise concerns as a prior county district attorney’s office employee during the county juvenile justice corruption scandal.
Pedri, 36, who worked as an assistant district attorney and deputy district attorney from October 2004 to January 2012, said he prosecuted 13 homicide cases while handling office management responsibilities but was not involved in daily matters of juvenile court.
He said he has always acted on any suspected illegal activity but cannot discuss all investigatory matters he was involved with due to confidentiality requirements.
“I fought corruption during that time period. I’ve also assisted federal authorities in numerous investigations when I was with the district attorney’s office,” Pedri said. “I’m very proud of my time in that office.”
Urban also accused Pedri of providing “false information” to the council in connection with a recent Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce loan forgiveness request.
The county administration’s initial agenda presented to the county council in March said the council would “eliminate the opportunity to proceed” with a $6.1 million downtown Wilkes-Barre redevelopment project if it did not approve a proposed amendment forgiving $1.7 million in chamber loans.
Urban said McClosky Houck’s “digging” revealed the forgiveness of only $728,226 in community development loans was necessary to proceed with the redevelopment project — an option ultimately approved by a council majority in April.
McClosky Houck said Wednesday that she pressed for the answers through two lengthy series of questions to the administration because the initial request didn’t add up.
Pedri said there was no intent to be deceptive. When it became clear clarification was warranted, the administration presented a revised agenda proposal explaining the amount that had to be forgiven for the redevelopment project to proceed, he said.
“We answered numerous questions and submitted updated information prior to council’s vote,” Pedri said. “We will always answer questions and provide as many options as possible.”
Urban also described Pedri as former county manager Robert Lawton’s “right-hand man.”
Pedri said he provided impartial “solid legal advice” to both the council and Lawton as chief county solicitor from May 2013 until he took over as acting manager in January. He said he treated Lawton with professional courtesy as the county overseer designated by the council but didn’t blindly march in lockstep with Lawton.
A majority of council members had privately or publicly concluded it was time for a new manager after four years under Lawton’s leadership, but Lawton was not terminated and resigned on his own effective Dec. 31.
“Very often Mr. Lawton and I would disagree, and we would discuss my concerns, but my job was to provide a legal review for the county, and I did that,” Pedri said.
Dobash held up Pedri’s campaign contributions as evidence of political activity and maintained council Vice Chairman Tim McGinley should abstain from voting due to a donation from Pedri.
However, the specifics of these donations were not discussed at the meeting.
McGinley said Wednesday he received a $100 donation from Pedri’s wife in October when he was seeking re-election to the council.
Dobash sent an email Wednesday pointing to a county home rule charter provision barring payments in connection with efforts to obtain county employment or a promotion.
Pedri said he never gave a campaign donation in exchange for promises of personal gain and noted the county manager job opening did not exist when his wife donated $100 to McGinley’s committee.
McGinley said he obtained an independent legal opinion concluding there’s no reason he should abstain from voting on Pedri’s appointment. County assistant solicitor Shannon Crake also provided an unsolicited legal opinion reaching the same conclusion, he said.
Council members plan to discuss a possible new policy prohibiting the manager from donating to political campaigns.
Now that he’s permanent manager, Pedri said he has decided he won’t contribute to any candidates for county offices.
Campaign finance records show Pedri also donated $200 to the campaign committee for state Sen. John Yudichak , D-Plymouth Township, in March and $150 to the PA/FWD Political Action Committee in April 2015.
The PA/FWD committee donated $26,000 to Luzerne County’s Democratic Party last year, allowing the party to fund a media blitz that included ads highly critical of Urban, who won another term despite the ad.
The home rule charter says county employees can participate in political activity or be politically active “in a manner that does not materially compromise their efficiency or integrity as county employees.”
Brominski maintained Pedri doesn’t have enough management experience to stabilize a county with $320 million in debt and a deficit last pegged at $16.9 million.
Pedri, who will receive $120,000 in the new position, said he managed a staff of more than 60 in the district attorney’s office and ran his own law practice in Hazleton from March 2012 to May 2013. He also managed a legal staff of 20 employees as chief county solicitor and oversaw legal matters involving county contracts, financial documents and the county’s 1,400 employees, he said.
“I know every county issue and every county employee. I know where we can do better and where we need help,” he said. “I look forward to tackling those issues with county council.”
As interim manager, he set a series of 90-day goals that must be completed in all departments later this month and said he will report on the progress and establish a new round of goals. He promises the county’s 2014 audit will be completed by the June 30 deadline for the first time since home rule’s January 2012 implementation.
Pedri also must recommend nominees to the council for four vacant division head positions overseeing legal, operational, human and correctional services.
The seven council members who supported Pedri’s promotion expressed confidence in his management abilities Tuesday, with some describing him as a credible and competent leader with fresh ideas and the drive to implement them.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.