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Newswatch 16 Investigates: Politicking on the Taxpayers’ Dime

SCRANTON, Pa. -- How would you feel if your boss asked you to sign a petition supporting a politician's run for office?

A supervisor at County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) admits he did just that. It broke both agency and county rules, yet he was not fired or suspended.

Bob Lesh is the operations manager at COLTS, Lackawanna County's public transportation agency, and what he's done has a state election law and ethics expert calling Lesh's actions unbelievable.

Philadelphia area lawyer Larry Otter, election law and ethics expert, says what happened at COLTS headquarters on North South Road in Scranton last month is the kind of activity that erodes public confidence.

COLTS operations manager Bob Lesh admits he asked several coworkers, including people he supervised, to sign a nominating petition for Lackawanna County Commissioner Pat O'Malley.

"Don't do it on the taxpayer's dime. Don't harass employees in the office place where you supervise them to sign a political petition," Otter said.

Not only did COLTS workers complain, but the activity violates Lackawanna County's own code of ethics.

According to the code, workers for the county and related agencies like COLTS, "may not use county facilities on behalf of political candidates."

"That's obviously why we have policies and we take it seriously," said COLTS executive director Bob Fiume.

Fiume says, by law, he could not talk about what the agency did to punish Lesh.

Lesh told us he was only given a letter of reprimand from Fiume.

"I spoke to our solicitor and my board chairman about it to see what direction they want to go with it. We spoke and then we did discipline Mr. Lesh," Fiume said.

Lesh would not talk to us on camera. By phone, he said he didn't know the ethics rules and "was being stupid."

We also tried to get a comment from the candidate Lesh was helping – Lackawanna County Commissioner Pat O'Malley.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Commissioner O'Malley.

"These kind of shenanigans have to stop," Otter said.

Otter adds Lesh should have known better since Lesh is a veteran candidate for office himself, now serving his third term on the Scranton School Board.

Otter adds this incident may only add to the region's reputation for public corruption.

"With what has gone on in the last 20 years in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, it's a political cesspool. This is not helping its reputation," said Otter.

O'Malley's reelection campaign did not turn in the signatures gathered by Lesh.

State election law makes it a crime for state workers to gather signatures for those elected to state office if it is on taxpayer time and property, but counties set their own rules, and in Lackawanna County, Bob Lesh's activities were only a policy violation.


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