Luzerne County Council Vice Chairman Edward Brominski said he’s challenging a legal opinion that Gerald Hudak can’t serve on the county election board.
But county Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri, who provided the opinion, clarified his position Monday night, saying he meant to communicate that Hudak is allowed to serve but must abstain from voting on anything related to the May primary election ballot because Hudak is on the ballot seeking a Democratic County Committee member seat in Nanticoke Ward 2.
“This was my major concern — I apologize if I didn’t clearly state this in my first email,” Pedri said in a follow-up email to council Monday evening.
A council majority appointed Hudak last Tuesday to the unpaid election board seat, which must be filled by a registered Democrat.
Pedri said in his original email to Brominski on Thursday that he had informed Hudak he was ineligible to serve under the home rule charter because of his elected position as a committee member.
Pedri referred to a section of the charter prohibiting election board members from holding any “elective public office” when they are appointed to the board, throughout their terms on the board and for a period of at least four years prior to appointment.
The charter defines elective public office as “any federal, state, county, municipal or school district position that is elective.”
Brominski said he does not consider a Democratic committee seat an elective public office because committee members have no authority over government matters. Committee members essentially promote the political party and select some party leaders, he said.
Pedri said he agrees with Brominski and said Hudak would be permitted to serve as both an election board member and Democratic committee member if he is re-elected to the committee in May.
Councilman Stephen J. Urban said he did not give up his seat as a Republican committee member in Wilkes-Barre’s Ward 9 because he does not consider it an elective public office under the charter.
The charter prohibition is less restrictive for County Council members, saying they cannot hold any other elective public office during their council terms — not dating back four years.
Harry Haas had the opposite interpretation and resigned from his county Republican committee seat in Wilkes-Barre’s Ward 13 when he became a county councilman so he wouldn’t violate the charter ban. Haas said he believes the committee seat meets the charter definition of elective office because it is a publicly held post selected by voters.
Though Hudak is allowed to serve, he would have to relinquish the election board seat if he wants to file a petition to get on the ballot when Democratic committee seats come up again in 2018, Pedri said.
Another section of the charter says an election board seat becomes vacant if a board member files a petition for nomination or election. Hudak had to file a petition to get on the primary ballot, but Pedri said the ban doesn’t apply this time because Hudak already was on the ballot when council appointed him to the board.
The charter also bars election board members from serving as officers of a political party, such as party chair or district chair.
Brominski said he will discuss the status of Hudak’s appointment at council’s authorities/boards committee meeting next week, which he chairs.
The controversy prevented Hudak from attending Monday’s election board meeting. Council also appointed citizen Paul DeFabo to a vacant Republican seat on the board.
DeFabo didn’t participate in the voting portion of Monday’s meeting because the board did not wait for him to be sworn in by county Judge Lesa Gelb, who appeared at the emergency request of citizens to administer the oath.
During the meeting, board member Thomas Baldino expressed displeasure a council majority did not fill one of the two seats with a woman, noting Democrat Barbara Williams had been interested in reappointment. Baldino said the board consists of five men, even though at least half of the county’s voters are female. He described the council’s decision to appoint two men as “inappropriate” and “unjust.”
“I would certainly concur that that’s unfortunate,” said board Chairman H. Jeremy Packard, saying he will forward meeting minutes citing the concern to council.