Walter Griffith Jr speaks Up for all the Taxpayers
One Home Rule Study Commission member threatens to sue his board.
By Sherry Long firstname.lastname@example.org
KINGSTON – Home Rule Study Commission member Walter Griffith said he plans to file a lawsuit against the Luzerne
County Home Rule Study Commission after he repeatedly told fellow commissioners during Wednesday’s meeting he believed
they were violating the state’s Sunshine Act.
Griffith vowed not to attend another commission meeting until the issue was resolved over whether the commission is regulated
by the Sunshine Law or the Home Rule Law.
He believes because the commission violated the Sunshine Law by not legally advertising its meetings and holding a closed-door
meeting at the end of Wednesday’s session to discuss personnel matters.
“I think the commission has held three illegal meetings. The opinion of the Department of Community and Economic
Development is that the meetings be advertised,” Griffith said during the regularly scheduled meeting.
Commission Chairman Jim Haggerty disagreed with Griffith. Haggerty, a lawyer and Kingston mayor, said the real question
is whether the commission is considered an agency because the Sunshine Law only applies to agencies.
“The Home Rule and Optional Plans Law and the Sunshine Law are contradictory in several important aspects,”
Haggerty said, adding that the commission has many obligations that are not under the Sunshine Law.
The commission has not purchased any advertisements because the commission has no money. The commission is funded through
donations and the Luzerne County commissioners. The commission is expecting to receive funding approval from commissioners
in mid-July, but until then it has no operating funds.
Haggerty suggested the commission get an opinion on the matter from a solicitor it plans to hire when it has the money.
The majority of other commissioner members agreed with him, as they voted 9 to 2, to seek the advice of a solicitor to
determine which law governs the commission.
Griffith and board Treasurer Rick Morelli voted against the measure. Morelli said it would be best “to take the cautious
way” and follow the Sunshine Law guidelines. Morelli noted previous commissions have followed the Sunshine Law guidelines.
Haggerty noted that the Sunshine Law says meetings must be advertised, but the newspapers have printed articles in advance
noting when the meetings will be held.
The Budget Committee, Vice-Chairman Veronica Ciaruffoli, Haggerty and Morelli met earlier Wednesday with county Commissioner
Maryanne Petrilla, County Chief Clerk/Manager Doug Pape and County Budget/Finance Chief Tom Pribula to discuss getting funding for the commission.
County leaders decided to pay for future advertisements for the commission until its budget is approved.
Griffith also believes the commission violated the Sunshine Law Wednesday night when it held a closed-door meeting to discuss
hiring a clerical assistant.
After the regularly scheduled meeting the commission held a closed-door meeting to discuss the clerical assistant position.
After reconvening the public meeting, the commission voted on two nominations for men seeking the post after reconvening in
a public meeting. Jeffrey Niemiec was hired.
The commission was well within its bounds to hold the private meeting because the Home Rule Law and Sunshine Law allows
the group to hold these meetings to conduct business necessary to get information needed to study how the county government
operates, Haggerty said.
Private hearings can be held for any reason – in instance to hear from a whistleblower.
“It is a tool to get honest and candid testimony that might not otherwise be available,” Haggerty said.
The Sunshine Law allows executive sessions to be held under five instances – including personnel, real estate and
Home rule commission sworn in
BY ELIZABETH SKRAPITS
WILKES-BARRE — The Luzerne County Home Rule study commission got off to a running start Thursday,
with members arranging for a preliminary meeting as soon as they were sworn in.
“I want you to know, this is
one of the happier things I get to do,” Luzerne County President Judge Chester Muroski said before administering the
The 11 commission members are, in order of votes received: Kingston Mayor Jim Haggerty, county controller candidate
Walter Griffith Jr. of Wilkes-Barre, Pittston Area school board member John Adonizio, Veronica Ciaruffoli of Larksville, Frank
Conyngham of Shavertown, Kingston councilman Jack Schumacher, Rick Morelli of Sugarloaf, Richard Heffron of Dallas, Robert
Wanyo of Forty Fort, Christopher Kersey of Kingston and Charmaine Maynard of Sugarloaf.
“You probably wondered
why I seated you in the jury box,” Muroski said. “I found it appropriate because you are the jury to decide the
fate of Luzerne County government.”
The commission has nine months to research whether third-class
county code — the state ‘default’ — works for Luzerne County as it should and, if not, recommend another
Muroski told the commission members not to base their decision on how effective the county’s current officials
are, but on how much more effective they could be.
“Any form of government is only as good as the people who
are elected to implement it,” he said.
Muroski advised the commission members to limit referendum — putting
issues on the ballot for residents to vote on — only to “matters of great public concern.”
not turn Luzerne County into another California,” where constant ballot propositions keep government frozen, he said.
wishing commission members luck, Muroski delivered the same advice he said he gives to jurors: to be able to deliberate in
the most effective manner, treat each other with the same respect and courtesy you would expect to be treated and with which
you would treat other people in your daily life.
After being sworn in, commission members got together at the Ramada
Inn for an informal gathering to determine when they would hold their inaugural public meeting. They plan to have it June
10 at 7 p.m. in Wyoming Seminary on Sprague Avenue, Kingston, Haggerty said. At that time, members will elect officers, set
a meeting schedule and come up with rules, he said.
Voters overwhelmingly went for home rule in the May 19 primary:
48,430 to 14,091, or approximately 77 percent to 23 percent. The winning 11 out of 20 candidates had 10 days from May 29,
when the election was certified, to be sworn in, and 15 days from then to hold a public meeting.
Griffith said he was
glad so many voters turned out, noting, “They had the opportunity to come out and do something, and they took it.”
Judge Muroski used the opportunity to raise some “issues of concern” about home rule in Luzerne County.
By Jennifer Learn-Andes email@example.com
Luzerne County Reporter
Members of Luzerne County’s newly elected Home Rule Study Commission gathered in the same room for the first time
Thursday to be sworn in by county President Judge Chester Muroski.
Read more Luzerne County Government articles
click image to enlarge
Christopher Kersey signs papers after Judge Chester Muroski administered the oath to members of the Government
Study Commission on Thursday afternoon.
AIMEE DILGER/The Times Leader
Muroski instructed the 11 members to sit in the jury box, saying they are the jury elected to decide the future of county
The commission members are: Jim Haggerty, Walter Griffith Jr., John Adonizio, Veronica Ciaruffoli, Frank E. P. Conyngham,
Jack Schumacher, Rick Morelli, Richard “Kick” Heffron, Robert “Whammer” Wanyo, Christopher “C.
J.” Kersey and Charmaine Maynard.
Muroski used the opportunity to raise some “issues of concern” about home rule.
He said decisions on the government form and reorganization of row offices should be based on the effectiveness of the
office – not the current elected officials.
Even if the commission opts to make substantial change, elected officials will still be needed to run county government,
“Please remember, any form of government is only as good as the individuals elected to implement it,” Muroski
Determining whether county leaders are elected at large or by regions will be another “paramount decision,”
Election by region would be the most difficult choice because geographic territories would have to be carved out, he said.
“I believe strong consideration should be given to keep the districts’ population as numerically equal as possible.
However, this is left exclusively and completely to your consideration,” Muroski said.
A plan to recall or remove elected officials from office should also receive “important consideration,” he
The commission is deciding whether the third class County Code meets the needs of today’s citizens, he said. He cautioned
that changes can’t conflict with other state or federal laws.
For example, another law requires the county to have an Election Board, so a new government form couldn’t eliminate
it, he said.
The commission may propose the use of public referendums to make some decisions, rather than leaving them up to elected
officials. Muroski said he believes referendums should be left for “only issues of great public concern.”
“Be careful. Do not turn Luzerne County into a California, where constant propositions are placed on the ballot and
the state’s paralyzed until the election results come in,” he said.
The charter should also include a “reasonable” procedure for amendments so it may be altered to meet the needs
of future generations, Muroski said.
He closed by giving commission members the same instructions he gives jurors before he releases them to deliberate, asking
them to respect fellow members and their views.
After the oath in Muroski’s courtroom, commission members held a reception at the Ramada Inn in Wilkes-Barre.
Commission members plan to hold their first meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wyoming Seminary, but the exact location at
the school has not yet been determined.
The commission will have up to nine months to decide whether to proceed with a charter and, if so, another nine months
to draft a plan for a new, customized form of government.
Voters ultimately decide whether to accept the charter. The charter must be completed 13 weeks before an election, which
means a charter change would likely be on the ballot in the November 2010 general election.
Passage of a charter could be more difficult if it’s delayed to 2011 because that’s a county commissioner election
year. Commissioner contenders could actively campaign against a charter.
Commissioner Greg Skrepenak and former commissioner Todd Vonderheid opposed the last proposed charter when they ran for commissioner in 2003, urging
the voters to give them a chance to turn around the county without home rule. That charter was defeated by a margin of 54
percent to 46 percent.
GOP candidates urge teamwork
BY KRISTEN GAYDOS
Richard Hughes, a Court of Common Pleas Republican candidate, took a few days after the election to
do some work around the house before jumping right back into campaigning.
“I’m excited, I’m rested,
I cut the grass, I painted the porch,” he said during the Republican Party’s unity rally Tuesday night at GOP
headquarters on Public Square, Wilkes-Barre.
Many of the candidates spoke of the need for teamwork to ensure victory
in November’s general election, especially since Democrats outnumber Republicans throughout the county.
registration jumped to 112,723, while Republican registration hit 61,881, according to election data. There are 190,375 registered
voters — including nonpartisan and third party — in the county.
“One thing I learned through this county is how important
each and every vote is,” Hughes said.
County controller candidate Walter Griffith said all the candidates
need to work together to get their messages out and let the people know they are the right candidates.
we can win this thing as Republicans,” he said.
Many of the candidates described how their grassroots
efforts had worked for them in this election. Gina Nevenglosky, candidate for register of wills, said she visited just about
every polling place in the county before the May election. Harry Haas, Republican candidate for the Wilkes-Barre Area School
Board, said he knocked on as many doors as he could, meeting 5,000 to 6,000 people.
“My strategy was to go meet
everyone I possibly can … People are really hungry for a change,” he said.
Luzerne County Republican Party
Chairman Terry Casey outlined some of the party’s plans for the upcoming election. He informed the candidates that the
party’s new headquarters, moving next to Thai Thai restaurant on South Main Street, will feature phone banks for campaigning.
Stephen A. Urban said he can’t remember party officials ever putting together a rally like this one after an election.
He said in the past, candidates had to work alone on their campaigns.
“This time, we have a party,” he
LUZERNE COUNTY CONTROLLER
Auto repair shop owner beats 4 others to get nod. Morgan, a Democrat, was unopposed.
By Jennifer Learn-Andes firstname.lastname@example.org
Luzerne County Reporter
Citizen watchdog Walter Griffith now has a shot to become the official watchdog of Luzerne County government.
The 54-year-old auto repair shop owner from Wilkes-Barre won the Republican county controller nomination, according
to unofficial results. He will face Democrat Bob Morgan, a financial consultant from Fairview Township, in the Nov. 3 general
“I’m just ecstatic. I’m absolutely humbled that Republicans put their faith in me,” Griffith said
Tuesday night while celebrating at the county Republican headquarters.
Griffith received 5,327 votes in a tight challenge against four contenders, based on unofficial results. The vote tally
for the others: former county commissioner Edward Brominski, Swoyersville, 3,992; certified public accountant Alice Coffman,
Sugarloaf Township, 3,490; attorney Nanda Palissery, Dallas, 2,989; and self-employed mortgage consultant Robert Sypniewski,
Morgan, 46, received 21,960 votes.
Griffith stressed in his campaign that he was the only candidate who has been actively engaged in county government meetings
in recent years, demonstrating his willingness to ask “the tough questions.”
Griffith has said he often shut down his business – Rutter Auto Service in Nanticoke – to attend county government
meetings. He has made arrangements for someone else to operate the business if he’s elected because he has pledged to
be in the controller’s office full time during business hours.
He promised to be outspoken if elected, saying he’s frustrated when controllers sit silently at public meetings.
“I think people saw my heart and desire to represent the people,” he said Tuesday.
Morgan said he wants to run an “issue-oriented, high-level campaign” for the general election.
“We want to focus on who brings the most experience to the table. I have 20 years of financial service experience
that will help the county in this time of need,” Morgan said.
Currently assistant vice president/senior financial consultant with PNC Investments in Wilkes-Barre, Morgan has also managed
large corporate 401(k) plans for Prudential Investments and worked at Smith Barney.
That experience is “extremely important,” he said, because the controller helps to oversee the $150 million
employee pension fund, which has required increasing taxpayer subsidy to stay afloat.
Morgan said he wants the controller’s office to audit all county agencies, not just the row offices.
Morgan and Griffith promise to hold quarterly public informational meetings and pack the county Web site with county fiscal
“Too often we’ve seen office holders who are insulated and isolated,” Morgan said Tuesday. “I want
to improve the relationship with the public.”
Griffith praised his opponents for running a clean campaign and said he looks forward to debating issues with Morgan in
The county has been without an elected controller since Maryanne Petrilla became a county commissioner in January 2008.
The controller serves for four years and received $36,562 annually. The controller is supposed to refuse payment if transactions
aren’t legal or properly approved. The controller has a powerful vote on the Salary Board, which creates all county
jobs and sets salaries for non-union positions.
The controller even has some authority to investigate, issue subpoenas and withhold payments on suspicion of fraud, flagrant
abuse of public office or criminal acts, according to state law.
Walter Griffith addressed the Commissioners regarding the
waste of Taxpayers money on outside attorneys
Commissioners also unanimously voted Thursday to hire the Rosenn Jenkins & Greenwald law firm for $200 an hour to represent
the county assessment appeals board in a property assessment mediation challenge filed by Hanover Township resident Vic Kopko.
Kopko also plans to file a lawsuit attempting to throw out the county’s reassessment.
Taxpayer Walter Griffith, who won the
Republican nomination in the county controller race, asked commissioners why outside counsel is needed when the county has
several staff solicitors.
The commissioners said assessment appeal board solicitor David Schwager is the only staff attorney who may handle the case
by law because Kopko’s action is against the appeal board. However, Schwager is busy processing assessment mediations,
and commissioners said they thought it would be unfair to put mediations on hold so he could focus on the Kopko matter.
Citizens of Luzerne County on Tuesday November 3rd
Walter L Griffith JR. has been there
every day and at County Meetings for the past 3 years and not just at election Time.
Walter Griffith JR. is a true Taxpayer
Advocate and not a person that will be there when it is profitable for him, but will be there “Full Time” to represent
“YOU” in the County Controller’s Office.
On Nov 3rd Vote for a true “Voice of Honesty
and Integrity” and a person that will never forget, the Citizens of Luzerne County that placed
their trust in him, after Election Day.
Elect Walter L. Griffith JR. for Luzerne County Controller
Taxpayer Advocates Are Holding Public Officials Accountable
They say, "You can't fight City
Hall!" Tax payer advocates across the country are defying the odds, fighting city hall and very often winning. Tax payer advocates
stand up and fight for the little guy, the common person in the street, the average tax payer. They are the self appointed
representatives of the powerless and the voiceless who have no idea how to fight city
hall, but wind up paying the bill every time politicians squander their money. They are changing the course of history and
improving American Democracy by holding politicians accountable and making then less likely to foolishly spend money.
Walter Griffith of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
is one of the best in the nation. Walter has gone to bat for the local tax payers on numerous occasions. Griffith completed
an exhaustive study of the city of Wilkes-Barre a couple of years ago. Griffith found plenty to reform and change for the
better. Walter discovered that the Mayor of Wilkes-Barre pay raises were based on the contracts which the city negotiated
with the unions. The mayor received the same raise as the union contracts with the lowest increase in pay. The problem was
that the Mayor represented the city in the negotiations and had an obvious conflict of interests. In essence, the mayor negotiated
his own pay raise. Despite coverage in the press and serious complaints from the public, nothing was ever done about this.
The Republican Endorsement
The Republican Party endorsement process was handled very professional
and orderly by Renita Fennick and Terry Casey and the vote was to endorse Nanda Palassary, I would like to extend
my congratulations to Nanda.
I think that majority of the Committee people chose not to endorse any candidate and
that was there right and opinion and I feel those that did endorse a candidate had a historical place in the Republican
Party in Luzerne County and I appreciate all those that did vote to endorse me as the Candidate for Luzerne County.
I look forward to continue my quest to win the Primary in May for County Controller as well as the Government Study
Thanks for your confidence
Walter Griffith Jr.
The count of the endorsement was as follows
1. Luzerne County Judge
a. Richard Hughes 114
b. Michael Pendolphi 54
c. William Amesbury ( Write-In) 18
d Do Not Endorse at all 14
a. Alice Coffman 3
b Walter Griffith 39
c. Nanda Palissary 51
d. Robert Sypniewski 19
e. Ed Brominski (Write In) not eligible because of not being in the Party for more than 1 year
f Do Not Endorse at all 17
a. Carolee Medico Olengenski 75
b Walter Mitchell 55
c. Do Not Endorse at all 4
4. Register of Wills
a. Nevengloski 74
b Do Not Endorse 54
5. Jury Commissioner
a. Frank Semenski 107
b Do Not Endorse 21
Walter L Griffith JR
Walter Griffith has been active in all
levels of government since 2003 when he became involved in the Wilkes-Barre City Council election. Walter has been at mostly
every City Council meeting since becoming involved in 2003 and has been there to make criticisms and recommendations to make
your government accountable and more efficient and has done this by always trying to do the research and being prepared for
the meetings to represent each and every taxpayer in the City of Wilkes-Barre.
Griffith has also been at most County Commissioner meetings and Salary Board and Prison Board meetings, since 2007 when the
County Government was exposed as having “Debit Card” misuse and was also at all the meetings concerning the recent
Luzerne County Property Reassessment and the Flood Authority Board concerning the recent Levee Fee and has also represented
the taxpayers in County Court regarding the borrowing of money for a mismanaged budget shortfall.
Walter Griffith has asked the tough
questions of the County Commissioners,
as well as the Prison Board, and has been at the meetings to provide much needed taxpayer representation and also constructive
criticism and input to help with making Luzerne County Government more accountable to the taxpayers that pay their salaries.
Walter Griffith will be a “Full
Time” Controller as well, and will be accessible to all the Citizens of Luzerne County, in his office every day from
9 to 5, just like the taxpayers expect from their elected officials.
Walter Griffith has demonstrated time
and time again that he is a person of Honesty and integrity and has never turned his back on the people of Wilkes-Barre,
because he wasn’t elected to the position of City Council, and will not turn his back on the people of Luzerne
County when he is elected to County Controller.
Urban questions need for New York City trips in ’06 and ’07
BY MICHAEL P. BUFFER
Luzerne County spent more than $8,700 on a series of overnight trips involving at least eight officials
— including disgraced former judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. — who went to New York City in 2006 and 2007.
the November 2007 disclosure county debit cards were secretly used to spend more than $3,100 on these trips, officials justified
the trips as research on a criminal records computer system. But now that the county is no longer planning to buy a criminal
records system, county Commissioner Stephen A. Urban is again questioning the legitimacy of the New York City trips.
doesn’t make much sense,” Urban said. “What were they really doing?”
Federal authorities in
December 2007 launched an investigation into county debit-card purchases that totaled almost $42,000 in 2006 and 2007. This
year, federal authorities have charged four court officials in an ongoing public corruption probe of county operations.
Ciavarella and former judge Michael T. Conahan pleaded
guilty Feb. 12 to taking more than $2.6 million in a kickback scheme to send juveniles to private detention facilities. Former
Court Administrator William T. Sharkey Sr. pleaded guilty Feb. 17 to embezzling more than $70,000 in court funds, and Sandra
M. Brulo, deputy director of forensic programs in probation, pleaded guilty last Tuesday to obstruction of justice for creating
a fabricated recommendation in a juvenile case.
Heidi Havens, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Martin C. Carlson, said
the office would not comment on the status of the debit-card probe and the status of a probe of no-bid purchasing at the county
County Commissioner Greg Skrepenak, former Chief Clerk Sam Guesto, former Deputy Clerk Bill Brace and Human
Resources Director Doug Richards used debit cards while on trips to New York. The county paid Bill Maguire, municipal coordinator
for the county emergency management agency, more than $5,000 in reimbursements for costs associated with the New York trips.
paid parking and lodging charges for himself and for others, such as Ciavarella, who had two overnight stays in a hotel room
in 2007. From March 2006 to October 2007, county officials spent more than $7,000 at the Manhattan Club in New York City.
The daily rate for a room there was usually $208.44.
In April 2007, county commissioners approved a $131,000 consulting
contract with Total Computer Group to develop a plan to help various police departments share information. In November 2007,
Skrepenak pitched a $3 million proposal to buy a criminal records system along with a 911 Computer-Aided Dispatch system,
known as a CAD.
Walter L. Griffith Jr., a candidate for county controller and outspoken critic
of the debit-card purchases, said a records-sharing system is “a worthwhile effort” but called “the trips
to New York” and the consulting contract “wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.” Griffith added county
funds should be spent on “projects that will benefit all citizens of Luzerne County and not for these types of worthless
trips by our elected officials for ‘Do Nothing’ advice.”
Since January 2008, Wilkes-Barre
has received $1 million in grant money for the county-wide records proposal, and the county last spring earmarked $2.3 million
in bond proceeds for the project. The county last fall advertised a request for proposals, but 911 officials later decided
to focus only on getting a new CAD, Chief Clerk Doug Pape said.
“Unfortunately, when there is an administration
change, there often comes a change in emphasis,” said Skrepenak, who was commissioner chairman until January 2008. “I
preferred it as it was initially conceived.”
Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla and Urban did not want
to keep Guesto, Skrepenak’s right-hand man, as chief clerk, and Pape replaced Guesto.
“I thought (Skrepenak)
OK with us splitting up the project,” Pape said.
Said Petrilla, “That was his project, and I let him have
Wilkes-Barre officials are now looking at buying a criminal records system for the city with the grant money
the city obtained. Pape said other police departments could still tap into the city’s system to share records.
911 officials are reviewing the top three CAD proposals, and commissioners could approve a CAD purchase by June, Pape said.
A new CAD should cost less than $2 million and can interface with whatever records management system Wilkes-Barre buys, Pape
Skrepenak has insisted trips financed with debit cards were legitimate, and he has noted that recently completed
audits of county finances in 2006 and 2007 did not uncover any “issues with the debit cards.” Skrepenak has said
he is confident he is not a target in the ongoing corruption probe.
The county has not provided any documentation that
shows what county officials did in New York City or who they met.
“We went out to precincts in the Bronx,”
Guesto said in 2007. “We looked at their warrant system. We went on rides along with these individuals. They showed
us ways to prevent crime.”
Urban said Skrepenak’s inner circle wanted to “live like kings”
and waste taxpayer money. Urban also is still upset that the commissioners didn’t publicly vote to pre-approve the trips
or vote to issue the debit cards.