Luzerne County Manager Plans to Avert Layoffs

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WILKES-BARRE -- Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton talked to Newswatch 16 one day before county council could vote to fire him.

It's also the first time hearing from him since council rejected borrowing money to keep the county running.

Lawton discussed several hot topics Monday with Newswatch 16. Although he would not tell us whether he plans to resign, it doesn't look like he will quit before Tuesday night. That's because Lawton plans to present his plans to keep the county open at Tuesday night's  county council meeting.

One plan council could vote on is to borrow $22 million from the state.

Another plan includes paying county employees minimum wage until the state comes up with a budget.

“The state won't pay its bills, and we don't have the money to pay our bills,” Lawton said.

Lawton wouldn't name what option he hopes county council chooses, saying it's only his job to present possible plans and to put a selected plan in place.

But one plan he fears most would mean massive layoffs of employees days before Christmas.

"It's going to have a very devastating impact,” Lawton said.

If the layoffs happen, many county-funded agencies in Luzerne County could shut down, like senior centers.

"People are getting scared because winter is coming up!” said Rita Winnicki of Wilkes-Barre, who uses the Wilkes-Barre Senior Center.

“I would hope that the members of council who will be voting on this realize that that our citizens depend on this,” Luzerne County Councilman Rick Williams said.

Without a state budget in place, the chair of county council calls this a critical moment.

"We have been waiting since July. We have vendors that have been unpaid since July in some cases and the County has been fronting the money to make the payrolls and everything that comes from state funding," said Linda McClosky Houck, chair of Luzerne County Council.

Houck said after December 7, the County will not be able to make payroll.

Another item council could vote at Tuesday’s meeting is to fire Lawton. Houck said the uncertainty of Lawton staying on as county manager is a distraction at this point.

"Our primary focus at this point should be getting the county through the budget impasse. I think that adding some more tension into an already tense situation is not helping anybody’s morale or anybody’s ability to focus on what we need to get done," she said.

Asked if he would resign before the vote, Lawton said, “I'm not going comment on personnel matters, but I appreciate you giving me the opportunity."

1 Comment

  • Valfreyja

    I haven’t been following this story, but it sounds like people are shooting the messenger here. Why are they voting to fire him instead of hearing his plans, the thing he was hired to do?

    Probably because someone is profiting from this, either directly, or in passing the blame to a subordinate to protect their position. Either way, Luzerne county had better have a close look at their officials. It is not a quality politician, or even a decent human being, who plays politics with an issue like this.

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