Luzerne County has a new human services division head, but the nominee to oversee correctional services dropped out.
The council unanimously voted Tuesday to confirm Manager C. David Pedri’s human services division head nominee Michael Donahue.
Pedri said correctional services division head nominee Gregory Briggs, of Johnstown, contacted him Monday night to say he was no longer interested due to “personal and professional reasons.”
A Black Creek Township resident, Donahue is a King’s College graduate and has worked in the human services field for about 35 years.
Currently the county’s drug and alcohol executive director, Donahue also has been serving as interim human services division head since early April.
He has headed the county’s drug and alcohol department, which also serves Wyoming County, for 14 years, supervising dozens of employees and working closely with the state’s Department of Human Services, Pedri has said. Donahue is a state-certified alcohol and drug counselor.
Donahue will receive $87,000 annually, the same compensation paid to prior division head David Schwille, who retired in April. The division has a $100 million budget to provide services to the elderly and disabled, veterans, addicts and children who may be abused.
Councilwoman Kathy Dobash said during the vote she had reservations but supported Donahue because he promised in closed-door executive session to hold people accountable, be fiscally responsible and address concerns in Children and Youth, including problems that must be corrected to reverse the agency’s license downgrade.
During public comment, a prison worker urged the hiring of veteran prison employee Mark Rockovich for the correctional division head position.
Pedri said he can’t discuss personnel decisions but indicated “that individual is still a candidate” for the position.
Councilman Edward Brominski, who left Tuesday’s meeting/work session after the voting portion was concluded, sent an email to his council colleagues Tuesday night saying he believes Rockovich should be appointed division head because he has at least 26 years of experience and was the “second-place candidate.”
Brominski said the county did not launch a new search for the top manager when three finalists were recommended and one dropped out.
“We have an opportunity at this point to not only get a local in house candidate, but a very qualified one as well. I believe the council should take a stand and follow the precedent set in the manager selection,” Brominski wrote.
Under home rule, the council confirms division heads nominated by the manager.
Pedri told the council Tuesday that he and others on an interview team will meet to discuss options, with the goal of submitting another correctional services nominee to the council within a month.
In other business, Pedri told the council he and other county officials have been working closely with investigators who charged former prison employee Louis Elmy last week with extortion and possession of a firearm in furtherance of selling crack cocaine.
Prosecutors said Elmy, while acting in his official role as a prison work-release counselor, extorted money and other items of value from work release inmates in exchange for giving them special privileges and unauthorized furloughs.
“This is a major concern for Luzerne County,” Pedri said, promising a focus on corrective action.
Dobash questioned if Elmy’s supervisor and colleagues were aware of his alleged scheme and how he “got away” with it. The charges are evidence the county’s 2012 switch to a customized home rule government structure did not end the “culture of corruption,” she said.
“It’s still in play here,” Dobash said, urging the administration to be “tough and hard” implementing changes.