Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Urban: Legal action on Flood Protection Authority all wet

March 19. 2013 11:54PM

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Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority Chairman Stephen A. Urban lashed out at some of his county council colleagues Tuesday for asking him to resign from the authority board last fall because of eligibility issues later deemed unfounded.

Urban said county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis concluded he was eligible to keep serving, and did not involve him in her legal action asking a judge to decide if three other seats held by unpaid citizens must be vacated because the state never properly amended paperwork changing the authority makeup under home rule.

A former county commissioner, Urban said he had a “hard time” hearing calls for him to step down from the authority, which oversees the Wyoming Valley levee system. He said he has devoted many hours to inspecting and monitoring the levee and has even slept in his car outside the county Emergency Management Agency building during Susquehanna River flooding so that he was accessible.

“What did I get? A slap in the face from council,” Urban said.

The subject came up at Tuesday’s authority meeting, because some council members are questioning the value of proceeding with the district attorney’s legal action.

A council majority had urged the legal action last fall after Urban and the three citizen members — William Falls, Douglas Ayers and Kevin O’Brien — refused to give up their seats.

The four authority board members argued the county had no authority to remove them and unsuccessfully urged the county to follow county solicitor Vito DeLuca’s recommendation to allow them to serve while the state paperwork was resubmitted.

Councilman Eugene Kelleher attended Tuesday’s authority meeting to request discussions on ending the suit, saying the three citizens are “wonderful assets to the community.”

Authority Solicitor Christopher Cullen said settlement can be “easily achieved” if Salavantis withdraws the legal challenge. Salavantis could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The authority unanimously voted Tuesday to proceed with state paperwork amendments that Cullen said will rectify any outstanding concerns. The proposed changes will be forwarded to county council for its approval, Urban said.

“It’s going to be in your court,” Urban said, addressing Kelleher and another meeting attendee, Councilman Tim McGinley.

O’Brien, a former county employee, said he volunteered to serve to “give something back” to the county. The issue could have been resolved by allowing the state paperwork to be resubmitted, he said, and spending money and energy on litigation is “ridiculous.”

In other business, Urban said authority members have interviewed three qualified applicants for the authority executive director position vacated by Jim Brozena’s retirement, but no decision has been reached on hiring Brozena’s replacement.

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