Our Opinion: Keep watchful eye on selection of next Luzerne County manager

Amid the season’s holiday pageants and TV specials, pay particularly close attention to the political drama unfolding in Luzerne County.

The outcome will likely impact you and your neighbors in this county for years to come.

The 11 people serving on the county council must hire a successor to Manager Robert Lawton, who announced he will leave the post at year’s end. His replacement likely will be picked sometime next year. First, however, a search committee consisting of three or more county residents will be formed and asked to whittle the list of job contenders to three finalists.

Who will serve on this important search committee?

That’s up to the county council’s members. On Wednesday, they plan to publicly interview each of nine people who applied for the duty. The session, set to begin at 5 p.m. in the council meeting room at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, is open to the public; however, audience members may only listen. No questioning the applicants or making statements about their qualifications or characters. And no outbursts from the “peanut gallery.”

Each applicant reportedly will be asked an identical set of questions.

We are not privy to that line of questioning, but we hope one of the queries goes something like this: Did you volunteer to do this task of your own volition, or did someone encourage you to apply? If prompted by someone, who? And what was the nature of that conversation?

The drafters of the home rule charter wisely set up a search process that includes people outside council, who presumably will be less politically motivated and more impartial when evaluating potential managers. But let’s not be naive; this is Luzerne County, where the switch from a three-commissioner form of government to a home rule setup several years ago left many people feeling jilted. Certain people who could reasonably rely on regularly receiving county contracts, or access to officials, found themselves left in the cold. Egos were wounded.

The disgruntled ones haven’t moved away. And it’s not a stretch to imagine they, and others, might want to influence the manager selection.

We recently received a letter in which a county resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of “reprisal,” voiced such skepticism. “Lawton has shown that he has brain power and ambition to straighten out the mess, a mess he didn’t create,” the letter stated. “But the old-time political hacks are using their decayed teeth to run ‘the outsider’ out of town. …

“I wouldn’t be surprised if one of their buddies is the next manager.”

Does that sound too far-fetched, like something torn from a suspense novel?

Well, stranger and more nefarious things have happened in Luzerne County. And if you don’t believe that, we have an old, unused juvenile detention center to sell you.

It’s a sweet deal.