Former Luzerne County manager Lawton back in California

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Luzerne County Courthouse -

Former Luzerne County manager Robert Lawton was unanimously hired last week as the new manager in Turlock, a city of more than 70,000 residents in California’s Central Valley, according to the Turlock Journal.

Lawton had resigned from the $110,000-a-year position as Luzerne County’s first non-interim manager under home rule at the end of 2015. He then worked as deputy county administrator in Sonoma County, Calif., and obtained a position as Yates County administrator in the Finger Lakes region of New York in August 2016 at a salary of $100,000.

Lawton’s employment contract with Turlock is for a three-year term starting by July 12 with a base salary of $215,748, the Turlock Journal said. He also will receive a $400 a month automobile allowance and relocation and moving expenses up to $20,000, it said.

C. David Pedri marked his two-year anniversary as Luzerne County manager earlier this month and receives $124,848, with no county-owned vehicle or allowance.

• County offices are closed Monday for Memorial Day, one of 12 paid holidays. The prison, 911 and other emergency services remain operational.

• In response to a recent citizen inquiry, county Assistant Solicitor Shannon Crake said the county has business interruption insurance to cover added costs or losses due to an unexpected closure. However, the county cannot submit a claim until an interruption has spanned 72 hours, she said.

The question came up due to a recent bomb scare and other past emergency-related closures.

• A council majority last week approved a three-year, $1.3 million contract with Microsoft Corp. for software acquisition and operating system licensing.

• Council also agreed to lock in a fixed rate for natural gas — $3.026 per dekatherm (dth) through UGI Energy Services.

The county can cancel the contract with a 30-day notice and attempt to negotiate a new price if it appears rates are trending below that amount, the administration said. County Operational Services Division Head Edmund O’Neill said the county also is expected to save more than $40,000 because UGI, as part of the agreement, is forgiving a portion of a January bill that quadrupled due to cold temperatures and high demand.

• A blight ordinance was amended last week, leaving approval of a funding agreement as the only step needed to proceed with a countywide database of abandoned, eyesore properties in the 72, non-city municipalities.

The county Redevelopment Authority has offered to reimburse the county up to $15,000 this year for furnishing legal and administrative services to the county’s blighted property committee to compile the database. Once the list is completed, it would be up to the authority to pursue and find funding for demolition or other remediation.

• Three citizens were appointed to outside boards last week: Anthony Bartoli and Maggie Farrell on the Children and Youth Advisory Board and Mario Fiorucci to the Area Agency on Aging Advisory Board.

• Hazleton Public Transit Director Ralph Sharp told council he will reimburse the county if he succeeds in his push to obtain contributions from Schuylkill and Carbon, which also receive busing service.

Council is scheduled to vote next month on a requested $163,298 local match required for the agency to receive $2.05 million in state transportation funding.

Sharp said he sought intervention assistance from the office of state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, because the two other counties have not responded to his funding requests. Based on statistics, he calculated the contributions should be $14,528 for Carbon and $2,939 for Schuylkill.

Providing service to the neighboring counties benefits Luzerne by bringing their residents into the Hazleton area and also to Wilkes-Barre — a bus run that has increased largely due to interest in visiting the Mohegan Sun Pocono Casino in Plains Township, Sharp said.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban, who has been critical of the lack of Carbon-Schuylkill contributions, thanked Sharp.

Luzerne County Courthouse County Courthouse

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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

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