More candidates surfacing for Luzerne County’s proposed government study commission

More April 23 primary election candidates are surfacing for Luzerne County’s proposed government study commission.

County voters will simultaneously decide if they want to convene a commission and choose seven citizens to serve on the panel. The selected seven would only serve if the referendum passes.

Prior county councilman Matthew Mitchell, of Plains Township, said Friday he has decided to run.

A seven-citizen “Unity for Our Community” slate of candidates also was announced Friday in a release from Beth Gilbert, the voting engagement organizer for Action Together NEPA.

The slate: Alisha Hoffman-Mirilovich, Fairview Township; Vito Malacari, Hanover Township; Mark Shaffer, Wilkes-Barre; Andy Wilczak, Wright Township; Fermin Diaz, West Hazleton; Claudia Glennan, Salem Township; and Cindy Malkemes, Dallas Township.

Among the other confirmed candidates:

• Ted Ritsick, of Forty Fort, a professional planner, a current member of the county’s Wyoming Valley Airport Advisory Board and a prior Forty Fort Borough councilman.

• Pittston resident Tom Bassett, a music teacher

• Prior county councilman Stephen J. Urban, of Kingston

• Nescopeck Township resident Vivian Kreidler-Licina, who previously ran for county council

Wyoming Valley West School Board member and prior county councilman Tim McGinley also said he is contemplating running for the commission but has not yet made a final decision.

If a commission is activated, the panel must examine the county’s current home rule structure that took effect in 2012 and decide if it wants to prepare and recommend changes. The commission would be free to recommend alterations to the existing charter, an entirely new charter or a return to the prior state code system in which three elected commissioners and multiple row officers handled decisions that now rest with an 11-member council and appointed manager. Voters must approve any recommended change for it to take effect.

Mitchell said Friday he decided to run because he is intimately familiar with the charter and has ideas on ways it could be streamlined and improved.

“Serving on council gives you a different perspective on what does and doesn’t work. Overall the charter has worked, especially when it comes to finances,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell expects commission discussions on the pros and cons of reducing the 11-member council and electing some or all council members by districts instead of at large.

The release announcing the “Unity for Our Community” slate says it is a “diverse and dedicated” mix of residents from varied professional backgrounds and geographic areas of the county “embodying the true spirit of diversity and representation.”

This slate includes an executive director, a teacher, data analyst, professor, engineer, Navy veteran and counselor, it said.

”This variety of perspectives ensures a comprehensive understanding of the community’s needs and a balanced approach to governance,” it said.

The slate’s objective will be making necessary adjustments to the existing charter, it said.

”We recognize that while the existing charter is not perfect, it is a crucial instrument that strengthens and empowers the residents of Luzerne County. Our aim is to enhance the charter in ways that truly benefit our community,” it said, inviting voters to email or visit for more information.

Prior county councilwoman Jane Walsh Waitkus, of Dorrance Township, had attended a training session on the nomination signature collection process last week but said later she has decided she won’t be running due to the time commitment.

“It is an important job. I hope people who have the time step up,” Walsh Waitkus said.

In May 2009, the last time a study commission was on the ballot, 20 residents from throughout the county appeared on the ballot. That commission was 11 members and ended up drafting the charter in place today.

The commission held weekly public meetings to consider and debate options. Study commissions typically retain a solicitor and consultant to assist.

Serving on a study commission is a long-term commitment. The panel has nine months to report findings and recommendations and an additional nine months if it is opting to prepare and submit government changes. An extra two months is allowable if the commission is recommending a charter electing council by district instead of at large.

The only eligibility requirement for study commission members is that they be registered voters of the county, according to the state’s home rule handbook.

Study commission candidates must obtain at least 200 signatures from county registered voters on their nomination papers. Up to seven candidates have the option to team up to collect the minimum 200 signatures on the same nomination paper. Voters can nominate up to seven candidates.

Because the study commission is nonpartisan, any registered voter in the county can sign a study commission nomination paper.

Nomination papers and all required documents must be filed with the election bureau before 4:30 p.m. Feb. 13.

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


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