John Lombardo is new Luzerne County Council chair

Luzerne County Councilman John Lombardo was named the new council chair Tuesday night in the first official action of the reorganized 11-member body.

Councilman Brian Thornton was named vice chair.

Following a swearing-in ceremony in the courthouse rotunda, five newly elected council members were seated: Democrats Patty Krushnowski, Jimmy Sabatino, Joanna Bryn Smith and Brittany Stephenson and Republican Harry Haas.

Incumbent Republican Council member LeeAnn McDermott also was elected to another four-year term in the Nov. 7 general election. She took the oath of office and participated in the reorganization meeting virtually because she has COVID-19.

These six are serving with five Republican council members who still have two years left in their current terms: Kevin Lescavage, Lombardo, Chris Perry, Thornton and Gregory S. Wolovich Jr.

All seven Republican council members supported Lombardo for chair, while the four Democrats backed Stephenson. In a final confirmation vote, all 11 voted for Lombardo.

Bryn Smith also had nominated McDermott, but McDermott respectfully declined.

Lombardo has served as vice chairman for two years and said after the meeting he was grateful his colleagues trusted him to fill the role.

The chair presides over meetings, prepares meeting agendas, serves as a ceremonial head and selects which council members serve on council committees.

Lombardo said he has a good handle on the chair duties from his vice chair experience, which included overseeing some council meetings.

“I want to use this position to better improve communication between council members and the administration and ensure the public has ample opportunity to address their concerns,” he said, thanking outgoing council members, particularly prior chair Kendra Vough.

Regarding the vice chairmanship, Thornton received all seven Republican votes, while the four Democrats voted for Sabatino. As with the chair vote, all 11 members supported Thornton in the final confirmation.

Wolovich also had been nominated for vice chair in the initial voting round.


During public comment before the reorganization meeting, county Controller Walter Griffith said Stephenson has not responded to his Dec. 26 request seeking proof that she has resided in the county for a year preceding her election on Nov. 7.

The county’s home rule charter says each council member “shall have been a resident of the county continuously for at least one year immediately preceding the date of his/her election or appointment.”

Griffith said prior councilman Stephen J. Urban had publicly raised questions about Stephenson’s residency, and Griffith said he views it as his responsibility to determine if the charter requirement is being met. Griffith said the only public information he has to go by is a county voter registration application from Stephenson at the end of February 2023 indicating she was changing her registration to an address in this county.

Stephenson did not respond during the meeting but said afterward that she has been a county resident her entire life. She said she will release a public statement at some point.

Wilkes-Barre resident Mark Shaffer defended Stephenson during public comment, saying she is a lifelong county resident and had been registered to vote in another county while attending college as permitted by state law.

Alisha Hoffman-Mirilovich, executive director of Action Together NEPA, said Stephenson resided and paid taxes in this county as required by the charter. She said the focus should be on “celebrating the fact that the first woman of color” is serving on county council.

Stephenson had supplied documentation to county Manager Romilda Crocamo.

Crocamo informed council Tuesday afternoon that she received an email from Stephenson that she assumed was in response to the controller’s request.

Crocamo told council Stephenson’s email included a copy of her current driver’s license and copies of 2021 and 2022 federal tax returns. Stephenson’s email said the furnished residency documentation was evidence that she meets the residency qualification requirements of the home rule charter, Crocamo said.

“As you are aware, the county manager has no power or authority over the determination of the qualifications of county council members; as such, I destroyed the personal information that was provided to me by council-elect Stephenson,” Crocamo wrote. “This information was neither requested by me nor should should this type of personal information be in my possession. However, I am compelled to advise you that such information was provided to me.”

Oath of office

County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Michael T. Vough administered the oath of office and commended new, current and prior council members for getting involved in public service.

He said they must make difficult decisions impacting all county residents while often enduring anonymous online posters making fun of them without the opportunity to reply face to face.

Sabatino offered the closing remarks, praising division heads for briefing him on pending matters and Crocamo for moving the county “in the right direction.”

He expressed a desire for council to work together to help make communities safe and stable, fix roads and bridges, provide cost-effective and trusted county services and improve the quality of life.

Sabatino got choked up as he looked at his mother in the audience, saying she moved here from Italy in 1975, built a family business and was later sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

“Now she gets to see me sworn in as a Luzerne County Council member,” he said.

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


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