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Job Cut Amid County Election Bureau Confusion

December 17, 2018

A controversy involving the Luzerne County election bureau combined with confusion at a recent county council meeting will cost one county employee her job.

Melony Jones — the election bureau employee who will be laid off Dec. 31 — on Sunday said she has no regrets about applying for a county job that lasted just a few months.

“I love working for the county,” Jones said. “I like the position I had. Unfortunately, things did not work out.”

Jones began work for the election bureau as an inspector earlier this year. When a new election services associate position was created over the summer, she applied for that position and was hired.

The county’s 2019 budget, which county council approved last week, does not include funding for the position — so Jones is out of a job.

How that happened is a long story. It starts last fall.

County council in 2017, during discussions for the election bureau’s 2018 budget, rejected a requested new election services associate position, which would have focused on voter outreach and education.

County Manager David Pedri in July approved the creation of the position, after he found budgetary funding to pay for it. Jones was hired to fill the position, which pays $30,000 per year, in September.

Some council members questioned the creation of the position at council meetings since then, including the October budget work session at which county election director Marisa Crispell outlined her 2019 budget request.

Councilman Harry Haas has repeatedly said it was wrong for Pedri to create a position that council had rejected.

Pedri countered that the county manager is authorized to create new positions for which funding is available. He also said council members did not immediately express concerns over the new position.

The election bureau’s proposed 2019 budget included funding for the position.

Haas proposed a budget amendment that called for slashing the election bureau’s budget and eliminating the disputed position.

Things got confusing at the Dec. 4 council meeting.

Council discussed Haas’s proposed amendment at length, as well as an amendment submitted by council Chairman Tim McGinley that would have cut the election bureau’s budget less severely.

After a long discussion, council voted to adopt the amendment that slashed the position. With two council members absent, a 5-4 vote in favor of the amendment to restore the position failed, since budget amendments require six votes, a majority of the 11-member council, for approval.

Councilmen Eugene Kelleher and Robert Schnee immediately said they had voted in error, after getting confused in the maze of multiple amendments. Kelleher said he would propose an amendment to restore funding for the position.

The next day a controversy emerged, centered on Crispell’s service on the advisory board of county vendor Election Systems & Software and her trips to meetings for which ES&S paid her travel expenses.

Kelleher said the controversy, which is the focus of two investigations including one by the state auditor general’s office, caused him to change his plans.

“I want to wait till this thing is resolved,” Kelleher said. “I don’t think we know where we are at with the (election) bureau.”

Haas said council was in a no-win position when forced to vote on eliminating Jones’ position.

“I feel absolutely horrible about that,” he said. “This should have never happened. The lesson here is for the manager to follow the policies and parameters that council sets.”

Pedri, in an email sent Friday, said he does not plan to create any additional positions in the elections bureau in 2019.

Jones said that when she accepted the new position, no one informed her it had not been included in the 2018 budget and might be eliminated next year.

Contact the writer:

emark@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2117

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