County councilman says controller candidate’s forms were incomplete

Last updated: August 17. 2013 12:26AM - 3831 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Luzerne County Councilman Stephen A. Urban said Friday he has cause for publicly challenging the credentials and work experience of Democratic county controller candidate Michelle Bednar.

Her financial disclosure forms filed with the county and Conyngham Township, which he obtained through a public information request, indicate her work as an elected municipal tax collector but list no income from any private-sector employer, Urban said.

“You’re supposed to list any sources of income, direct or indirect, if you make $1,250 or more,” Urban said. “These forms are supposed to provide an honest representation of who we are and where we work, so people can determine if there’s a conflict.”

Bednar said she filled out the statement of financial interest forms based on guidance that she did not realize was incorrect. When she heard Urban filed a Right-to-Know request seeking copies after she defeated him in the May primary election, she said she reviewed the forms and learned after further research that she should have included more financial information.

The state Ethics Commission told her she could amend the forms and said she recently filed amended versions with the township and county, Bednar said.

Bednar works as an office manager at Newbridge Securities Corp. in Wilkes-Barre Township, she said, and is paid as an independent contractor through a company called Brook Financial.

Urban said he was not informed that Bednar had filed amendments but said he was prompted to look into the forms based largely on a conversation with Charmaine Maynard, a home rule charter drafter who is affiliated with the Citizens Opposing Political Suppression government watchdog group known as COPS.

On Friday Maynard said that when Bednar was up for an election endorsement by COPS while running for county council in 2011, Maynard asked all prospective endorsees to inform her if they had any issues in their personal lives that would reflect poorly on COPS if he or she received its endorsement. Maynard said Bednar told her she was being paid “under the table” by her employer.

Bednar, 47, said Friday that she always has been paid in compliance with the law.

Urban disclosed his review of Bednar’s forms after county Democratic Party Chairman Bob Boyer issued a release this week challenging Urban’s continued public criticism of Bednar.

Urban’s most recent critique was during Tuesday’s county council meeting when he said: “I can say that the Democratic candidate that is currently running has no experience whatsoever in auditing and being a controller. I’ll have more out on that in the future.”

Urban also had encouraged Republicans to apply for that party’s controller ballot slot vacated when Walter Griffith recently pulled out of the election. The Republican Party executive committee is expected to pick someone Sunday to fill that slot and run against Bednar in November.

Boyer’s statement said he and other party leaders “feel it is our responsibility to set the record straight” by countering Urban’s claims that she is unqualified.

“On the contrary,” the statement said, “Michelle’s experience speaks for itself. With nearly 24 years of finance and management experience in both the public and private sectors, Michelle is well qualified to serve as the Luzerne County controller.”

The statement says Bednar served as a branch office manager for an investment securities firm and has experience working with regulatory auditors and creating reports.

During her 10 years in banking, Bednar successfully cross-trained in both operations and finance, and she has supervised employees in many aspects of business, including payroll, bookkeeping and ensuring valid and accurate payment of income, dividends and commissions, the release stated.

She also served as township tax collector since 2009.

Her education and training includes studying corporate trust operations at the Cannon Financial Institute at the University of North Carolina and accounting at Penn State University. She holds an associate’s degree in tourism and travel management from Luzerne County Community College and has completed the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services’ Municipal Tax Collector Program.

The party’s Democratic Committee consciously decided against endorsing a candidate for controller in the May primary, the statement said.

“Rather, we decided to leave the choice for the Democratic nominee up to the voters,” the statement said. “The voters clearly compared the qualifications, experience, education and training of both candidates and selected Michelle Bednar as the Democratic nominee.”

“On behalf of the Luzerne County Democratic Committee, we are proud to have her as our nominee,” it said.

Bednar received 12,103 votes in May, compared to 8,363 for Urban, who is a former 12-year county commissioner.

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