The addition of two new members caused a shake up on Luzerne County Council on Monday with the selection of a new chair and vice chair.
New council members Eileen Sorokas and Kathy Dobash voted with colleagues Edward Brominski, Rick Morelli, Stephen A. Urban and Stephen J. Urban for Morelli to replace Tim McGinley as chair.
The same six voted for Brominski as vice chair over Linda McClosky Houck.
McGinley had been council chair since August 2012, and McClosky Houck served as vice chair since the first 11-member council was seated under home rule in January 2012.
The chair often serves as council spokesperson, presides over meetings and prepares meeting agendas.
The leadership shuffle wasn’t completely unexpected because Morelli had publicly acknowledged he was interested, and insiders predicted he had enough votes.
Brominski nominated Morelli for chair, and Councilman Rick Williams nominated McGinley. Councilman Jim Bobeck suggested both nominees make pitches before the vote.
Morelli said he was involved in home rule as a charter drafter and has repeatedly called for more efficient and effective meetings, involvement from all council members and oversight over the appointed manager and his administration.
He said council members vote on contracts the same night information is publicly presented. Morelli said he will present a reorganization proposal to council for its consideration within two days.
“I have two more years on my term, and I want to make it the most I can,” Morelli said, emphasizing he believes McGinley “did a fine job as chair.”
McGinley said he focused on building consensus among council members and encouraging discussion so all council members could support their decisions. He agreed some improvements are warranted in the budget process and other areas.
Bobeck said McGinley “earned” the chairmanship because of the time he devotes to the post.
Councilman Harry Haas said information on voting matters is sent to council several days in advance along with contact information for any questions, and he finds it “reprehensible” some colleagues don’t do homework before meetings.
Haas said Morelli is an effective councilman but doesn’t believe Morelli can devote the necessary time to the chairmanship due to his outside employment. McGinley is retired.
Dobash said she attended many council meetings as a citizen and does not believe the information flow is equal for all members. She predicted Morelli will bring “dynamic change.”
Councilman Stephen A. Urban said council is not sufficiently informed on the administration’s actions, and he referred to “cozy relationships” between some council members and management.
McGinley received support from himself, Haas, Williams, Bobeck and McClosky Houck.
McGinley and Morelli shook hands after the vote. Morelli said he will work with all council members, including those who did not support them. His time availability is not an issue because his proposed restructuring will force all council members to get more involved in committees, he said.
“The goal is to get better,” he said.
Sorokas nominated Brominski for vice chair, and Bobeck made the motion to keep McClosky Houck.
Bobeck cited McClosky Houck’s extensive work behind the scenes.
“The simple fact is Ms. Houck cannot tolerate incompetence for a single second,” Bobeck said. “She makes things happen.”
McClosky Houck said she does not believe in honorary titles and chose to handle more work because she was vice chair, including development of plans to select members for outside boards and much writing of codes required by home rule.
Brominski said he has a solid grasp on home rule and prior government experience as an elected commissioner.
Dobash said she supports Brominski because she agrees with his fights for transparency.
Stephen A. Urban said he disagreed with Brominski in the past but believes “change is in order.” Stephen J. Urban said Brominski has “intestinal fortitude.”
But Haas said Brominski has bullied council colleagues, county Manager Robert Lawton and some employees at times. He said it appeared Brominski already had the necessary votes and said he hopes Brominski treats everyone with respect.
“I implore you to please be decent. The essence of home rule is decency, and we can disagree without being disagreeable,” Haas said.
Brominski said he has been forthright and honest and keeps his promises. He said Haas opposed tax hikes but voted for an 8-percent increase.
“If you don’t like my demeanor, that’s the way I am. I’m not going to change now because you don’t approve of it,” Brominski told Haas.
The five council members elected to four-year terms in November — Dobash, Sorokas, McClosky Houck, Haas and Williams — took the oath of office at a ceremony in the courthouse rotunda before Monday’s meeting. Dobash was sworn in separately Monday morning but said she participated in the joint event as a courtesy to the others.
County President Judge Thomas Burke administered the collective oath and said council members who served the first two years of home rule, including former members Eugene Kelleher and Elaine Maddon Curry, invested significantly more time than anticipated.
“It has been an enormous experiment in democracy in an effort to move this great county forward,” Burke said.
Also speaking at the ceremony, McGinley said home rule replaced a commissioner government structure in effect more than 150 years.
“We still have a ways to go to form the government in the manner in which it should be,” he said.