Pedri, Houck Spar Over Control Of County Funds
Fallout over Luzerne County’s late audit for 2017 continued this week, with county Manager David Pedri and Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck at odds over Houck’s proposal to place financial personnel from all county departments under central control.
At a Tuesday work session, Houck lobbied for her proposed resolution to align all financial staff positions in county government under the jurisdiction of the county division of budget and finance.
Houck suggested that policy at recent council meetings, after the county’s 2017 audit was delayed by problems with auditing the county Children and Youth Services agency.
Houck on Tuesday reiterated her position that the framers of the county charter intended central control of county funds. That would prevent departments from operating as “fiefdoms,” as sometimes happened with elected row offices in the county’s former form of government, according to Houck.
Pedri asked Houck for specifics. The resolution, if adopted, would force a major change in the county’s day-to-day financial operations, he said.
“I am trying to figure out what the actual goal of this is,” Pedri said.
“It would bring us into compliance with the charter,” Houck said. “The goal of the charter was to unify the finances under one umbrella.”
The specter of the Children and Youth audit, and accounting discrepancies in the agency’s annual audits that date back several years, framed the tense exchanges between Houck and Pedri.
The amounts unaccounted for in that audit are large enough to cause serious concern, Houck said.
“There was an oversight of $2.5 million in one agency that was picked up by auditors,” she said, adding later that “it’s really disconcerting to find that someone cannot locate $2.5 million.”
Pedri asked Houck if concerns about “fraud or someone lying” inspired her proposed resolution.
“It’s not unheard of that that could happen, given the history of this county,” Houck said.
Councilman Harry Haas, who has often spoken highly of Pedri but voted with Houck to oppose motions that Pedri supported, described Houck’s proposal as “the essence of home rule government.”
“If anything it seems to me it would make the manager’s job easier,” Haas said.
Council Chairman Tim McGinley said there are clearly issues to work out with the resolution, and it will not be on the agenda for council’s next meeting.
Houck, in an email sent to council Wednesday, said her proposal would not infringe on the authority of the county manager.
“The role of the legislative branch of this government is to set policy; the role of the executive branch is to implement it,” she wrote. “Let us be careful that the tail does not wag the dog.”
Houck wrote that Pedri “cross-examined” her at the work session, which she described as “totally inappropriate.”
Pedri, in an email sent Thursday, defended his persistent questioning of Houck.
“This resolution changes how the entire county government is run on a day to day basis, so of course I have some questions regarding this major upheaval,” he wrote. “I’m happy that I did ask these questions at this public meeting because it became apparent that this idea isn’t fully fleshed out and needs quite a bit of work. I may end up supporting this resolution — it does have some valid points — but I need more information on it.”
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