County Council Candidates Address Crispell Scandal

May 12, 2019

Seven Democrats and four Republicans seek their party’s nomination for Luzerne County council in the May 21 primary.

Six council seats will be on the ballot in the November election.

The 11-member council is the legislative body of county government, according to the county charter.

Council members serve four-year terms and are paid $8,000 per year except for the council chairperson, who is paid $10,500 per year.

The Citizens’ Voice asked each candidate to answer the same three questions about issues facing county government.

Question two appears today. Question three appears Monday.

Robert Schnee replied in a phone interview, while Martin Dartoe responded during an in-person interview. The others replied via email.

Question: Do you think the county should change any of its policies or standards based on the controversy involving election director Marisa Crispell’s ties to a county vendor — and if so, what changes would you like to see?


• Patrick Bilbow, (incumbent), 50, of Duryea, principal of Pittston Area Middle School.

“I think it is always a good idea for a system of checks and balances to be in place. For example, in my career in education if one of the teachers on my staff wants to attend a conference/training there are forms and paperwork that must be completed prior to attending. This documentation requires signatures from both the building principal as well as the superintendent. I think it is always a great idea to be clear what the objective/purpose of any training/conferences are to determine if they are worthwhile.

I believe that this same concept can be utilized in a situation such as the one described in the question. Although this occurred prior to my tenure as a member of Luzerne County Council, a more clearly defined system/protocol of checks and balances may have prevented any controversy from arising.”

• Martin Dartoe, 30, of Wilkes-Barre.

Dartoe said county officials should have no ties of any kind to county vendors.

“No, not at all,” he said. “Because it’s like serving two masters: the county and the vendor. That is incorrect. Stay with the county.”

Dartoe said he supports the policy changes regarding county employee trips that were implemented after the Crispell controversy developed.

• Tim McGinley, (incumbent), 72, of Kingston, retired educator and coach, current council chairman.

“Since the disclosure of the election director being a member of an advisory board with a vendor which provides services to the county, there have been several changes instituted.

The first is that any request to go to a conference must be in writing and approved in writing by a supervisor. Also, if there is any question regarding a potential ethics violation, the Office of Law has instituted a directive to contact a designated solicitor that will provide a decision on the potential ethics violation.

In addition, the county manager’s report will provide a listing of each individual attending a conference with appropriate information such as dates, title and funding source.

It is necessary to provide complete transparency prior to any decision regarding award of contracts.”

• Anup Patel, 47, of Rice Twp., owner of several businesses in the county.

“I would think the county needs to update their employee guidelines by (restricting) the capabilities of employees serving on boards or committees that may create a conflict of interest.”

• Robert Schnee, (incumbent), 60, of Sugarloaf Twp., works for the Hazleton City Authority.

Schnee said council members need to discuss ways to support measures taken by county Manager David Pedri and chief solicitor Romilda Crocamo “to prevent this from happening again.”

“I know the manager and solicitor have implemented a formal approval process,” Schnee said. “The solicitor’s office has designated an assistant solicitor on all ethics questions. We hired our own lawyer to investigate this. Whatever recommendations they have after this is concluded, we will follow.”

• Joe Sebastianelli, 28, of Pittston Twp., teacher with Luzerne Intermediate Unit.

“I believe some corrective measures have already been implemented by county government. For example, all county employees must undergo training when it comes to the state ethics act and the county ethics code. Division heads and the county manager must first approve of any county employees participating in a conference requiring travel. If those trips are approved, they will be disclosed in the manager’s monthly report.

The election director’s actions were clearly unwise and unethical. She cost the county tens of thousands of dollars. If elected, I would call for a council meeting to determine whether she will stay on as election director. This topic will need to be discussed and debated before the public.”

• Jane Walsh Waitkus, (incumbent), 71, of Dorrance Twp., retired educator and professor.

“In regard to the county needing to change any of its policies based on controversy involving the election director’s ties to a county vendor: Yes, the policy needs to be changed.

County employees should not have any ties to county vendors. A policy should be in place which forbids ties to county vendors.”


• Walter Griffith, 64, of Kingston Twp., retired from the auto repair business and former county controller.

“I would like to change the county charter or ethics code to place language in it to not allow any gifts from any other county employee, or any vendor to provide any gifts of any kind to a county employee or elected official.

The restriction would also have language that would place any vendor that approaches a county employee or elected official with an offer, to be immediately placed on a county vendor bid prohibited list for a period of two years.

I would never have allowed the manager to spend the money on an outside attorney for the investigation and the county ethics commission should have done a full investigation as to how and who authorized this to be done by Ms. Crispell. The division head, solicitor and manager should have all been made to testify before the commission to determine who was at fault. The division head should have been publicly reprimanded and the county Board of Elections should have placed a letter of reprimand in the file of Ms. Crispell.”

• Kendra Radle, 25, of Exeter, graduate financial services counselor at Wilkes University.

“I think that moving forward, positions such as sitting on an advisory board should have to be disclosed by county employees. I think it is common in most professions to disclose any outside business an employee may be involved in. I think requiring such disclosures can save the county from similar controversy and hopefully prevent any more dollars being spent on outside investigations regarding the matter.”

• Stephen J. Urban, 45, of Wilkes-Barre, IT support coordinator and former council member.

“Yes, the county manager should ensure all county employees be required to receive ethics and conflict of interest training. Each should sign that they have completed such training. The Personnel and Administrative codes should be updated to ensure that each employee is held to higher ethical standards and conflicts of interest can be punished up to and including termination of employment. Each employee should also be educated on the Luzerne County Charter.”

• Gregory Wolovich, 26, of Hanover Twp., quality assurance technician at Wegmans Service Center.

“I think we need to utilize our Accountability, Conduct, and Ethics Commission in circumstances such as these. If there is ever any doubt when it comes to conflict of interest cases, they should be consulted before they become a concern later on down the road. If there are any uncertainties, the state Ethics Commission should be contacted as well. If we take a proactive approach, we can save the county a lot of headaches down the road.”

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