Friday, May 29, 2009

The LuLac Edition #832, May 29th, 2009



Since Luzerne County voters last week overwhelmingly made the decision to have a commission formed to rethink county government, I thought it might be instructive to share with readers of LuLac the last time a study was presented to the vox populi. The process started in earnest on May 15th, 1973 when a commission of seven members was created by the voters. The ballot question was, “Shall a government study commission of seven be elected to study the charter and plan of government of Luzerne County, to study and consider the advisability of adoption of an optional plan of government or a home rule charter and to recommend whether or not an optional form of government or a home rule charter should be adopted.” Seven members (Musto, Miner, Cooney, Corbett, Ray, Cappelini, and Chamberlain were the top vote getters out of 29 candidates) were elected at the same time of the passage on the question. On June 3rd, 1973 the Commission was certified with all expenses being picked up by the Luzerne County government. The commission devoted its first 7 months studying the form of government in Luzerne County interviewing county officials. Public hearings were also conducted in 6 geographic areas of the county to get public input. Many county officials felt the government could be improved by improving coordination between departments and the elimination of duplication of services. Surprisingly some row officers told commission members that the functions of their office could be better achieved by an appointed instead of an elected official. Input from citizens concerned the fact that some areas of the county were under represented by the county government.
The preliminary draft of the charter was presented in June of 1974 and contained these findings:
1. The present government consists of several unintegrated departments that result in fragmentation and duplication of services. To correct these deficiencies a coordinated system of administration is needed with clear cut lines of authority and responsibility. A chief executive is needed to administer the day to day operation of county government.
2. The county government is not sufficiently representative of the 342,000 citizens in its 886 square miles. A legislative branch is needed for more representative government.
3. Many of the shortcomings of the county government are caused by the limitation of the state mandates. The state laws governing counties did not change in the last 140 years. A home rule charter is the only way to shift the base of power from the State Capitol to Luzerne County, create an improved structure of government and increase the flexibility of county government.
4. The American system of checks and balances is absent in the present county government since there is no separation of legislative and executive powers. The three county commissioners act as both legislators and executives of the county government. There is a definite need for a legislative or policy making body and a separate executive, each with clearly defined duties and powers and a workable system of checks and balances.

1. Establishment of two branches of government, Legislative and Executive.
2. A creation of a policy making legislative body consisting of 9 members elected from Councilmanic districts in the county. The County Council would be representative of the entire county.
3. A creation of the office of County Executive who would be elected at large.
4. The offices of District Attorney and County Controller would remain as elected departments. Both would be elected at large and serve as the chief prosecuting officer and financial watchdog respectively.
5. The charter would provide for citizens to participate in the government by mandating public meetings and special hearings on major issues. Plus the adoption of referendum (citizens voting on special ordinances) initiative (to propose new ordinances) and recall (get rid of elected officials by a majority vote) would also be a proposal of the charter.
6. An adoption of an administrative code, merit selection process, conflict of interest provisions purchasing procedures and a code of ethics.
7. Providing clear lines of responsibility and accountability regarding the county row offices. The elected row offices would be eliminated and the administrative duties would fall under the county executive who would appoint department heads.

After much consideration, the commission recommended that a referendum be submitted to qualified electors for the adoption of a Home Rule Charter. The following question was placed on the Nov. 5th, 1974 ballot, “SHALL THE HOME RULE CHARTER CONTAINED IN THE REPORT DATED AUGUST 20TH, 1974 OF THE LUZERNE COUNTY GOVERNMENT STUDY COMMISSION, PREPARED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE HOME RULE CHARTER AND OPTIONAL PLANS LAW, BE ADOPTED BY LUZERNE COUNTY?” Electors were asked to vote yes or no.

The charter campaign was thrust into the midst of a highly charged political time. President Richard Nixon had just resigned the month the charter plan was released and during the election season the nation was experiencing high inflation. There were debates on the pardon of Richard Nixon by President Ford plus Mr. Ford’s infamous WIN button (Whip Inflation Now) campaign. Statewide, Governor Milton Shapp appeared on an easy road for re-election against Philadelphia area businessman Drew Lewis. Shapp had distinguished himself nationally by negotiating a settlement with independent truckers who were feeling the pinch of scarce gas. Nationally the Democrats were on the verge of increasing their already solid majorities in Congress as a reaction to Watergate, and statewide Shapp’s approval ratings were through the roof despite enacting a state income tax upon taking office in 1971. Locally the only Republican row officer was Controller Stephen Yanoshak but he wasn’t even duly elected in 1973. Joseph Tirpak beat him handily in that row office race but could not serve due to the fact that a state law prohibited him from taking office since he held another financial office (assistant Budget Director) prior to his election. The Democratic establishment did their best to blanket the county and speak against the charter. And this was no tame Skrepenak and Vonderheid plea of “Please trust us”. Nope, this was hardball. Elected officials under the dome went to service clubs and neighborhood meetings saying the new plan would raise taxes significantly. County workers told friends and families, “Sure vote for it but while you’re at it, take the bread out of my mouth!” As a college student at King’s, our government class had a visit from a row officer who plaintively told us he had to get two of his kids through college and without his row office job, he’d be in the poorhouse. Plus the memories of the failed City Executive experiment in Wilkes Barre was fresh in the minds of voters. The names of Frederick Wagner and Frank Vanore were bandied about as high priced out of towners (their salary was $20,000, pretty big at the time) who had no clue how to navigate the choppy political waters around this area. Against that backdrop, the Charter question was defeated on Nov. 5th 1974 and life went on until the start of the new century and citizens tried for another effort.
Source: LuLac archives.


John Kennedy would have turned 92 today. Born in 1917, JFK turned into one of our most charismatic, tragic political figures. Here's Kennedy in one of his memorable moments:


That unique American institution, The Tonight Show goes through another transition this evening. Jay Leno will host his last show in the time slot formerly occupied by Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. It is remarkable that in a span of 55 years, the program only had 4 hosts. Leno moves to prime time in the fall. The Tonight Show always satirized the national political scene but also became a forum for political personalities to talk about their issues and aspirations. In a classic episode, here’s Richard Nixon playing piano on The Tonight Show with host Jack Paar. Note: sound cuts out one and a half minutes in:


Senator Barry Goldwater wins the California Republican Presidential primary, making him the overwhelming favorite for the nomination. Former Mayor Jim McNulty of Scranton is fond of saying that “timing is everything in love and politics”. Rockefeller got that double whammy the weekend before the primary. His second wife gave birth to their first child pre primary day reminding some of the more conservative voters in California about Rocky’s dumping of his first wife. Plus 60% of California voters were born out of state in 1964 giving Goldwater’s brand of frontier populist positions added heft. Also the Goldwater forces held their advertising fire conducting a huge advertising blitz during the final weekend of the campaign. Goldwater won by 51% of the vote and carried the state by 207,000 votes…..on the Democratic side of the Presidential race, President Lyndon Johnson announced plans to transform America by leading it upward to a Great Society. Johnson made his remark at the University of Michigan…….Statewide Project 70 passed in the State Senate. Project 70 was an open air, open space program that would develop land into state parks that increasing recreational activities in the state. The plan was the brainchild of Secretary of Forests and Waters Maurice Goddard……The 1964 Phillies sweep a series of three night games against the Houston Colt 45ers. The games are played at night because of the intense Texas heat and bugs. Pitchers Jim Bunning, Chris Short and Art Mahaffey easily handle the Texas team in the series…………Luzerne County Commissioners Jim Post and Bill Goss unveil a new 35 hour work week. The proposed schedule eliminates Saturday morning hours and has the day starting at 8:30AM and ending at 4:30PM. Meanwhile, Democratic row officers protested and announced that they would have their own hours which would include the Saturday sessions and would keep the 9am to 4pm Monday through Friday schedules. Row officers Register of Wills Helen O’Connor, Clerk of Courts Raymond Bittner, Prothonotary Bernard Podcasy and Coroner Dr. John Gibbons said they would operate seperately from the proposed GOP schedule……..and 45 years ago this week the number 1 song in LuLac land was the reemergence of the Beatles with another number 1 tune, “Love Me Do”, a song originally recorded in 1962.


At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dave....great edition highlighting the charter fight of the 70s. anyone on the current committee should take a good gander at this posting.

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OHG!!!!! Yonki!!! That WBRE TV ad, in your book the Radio Story you talked about that Indian being the mascot for a locaL tv STATION. oBVIOUSLY THAT WASN't fiction.

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great look back to 1964. The old time GOP could actually have a debate and people would listen. Love the Nixon piece too on Paar.

At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty funny that Mr. Yonki talks about the charter history. Then we see the problems today with the county. Then in 1964's article history tells us that the row officers in each party couldn't even decide on unified hours under the dome. We have a history of crap in government. History tells us so. Blow it up and start over!

At 11:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I'm reading the blog, it's about 930am, i also have sue henry on. i hit the you tube button and watch the video. then 20 seconds later, i hear the same song, love me do on wilk. i'm gonna buy a lottery ticket tomorrow.

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

looking at your 1964 feature and lbj's great society scheme. that worked out well, didn't it?

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if nixon had only stuck to music!!!!

At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the organizational charts were pretty good comprisons of what government can do and was.

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with one of the earlier posters about the row offices in the 60s not being able to agree on a time for set hours. Awful!


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