Unless an applicant surfaces today, Luzerne County Council may have no one to fill the rest of Walter Griffith’s controller term through the end of the year.
The only two people who had applied as of Monday evening were Carolee Medico Olenginski and Karen Ceppa-Hirko, but both are strongly considering removing their names from consideration.
Ceppa-Hirko said Monday she is reconsidering in light of the Republican Party’s decision Sunday to choose Medico Olenginski over her to be the Republican controller candidate in the November general election.
“I’m frustrated and very disappointed,” Ceppa-Hirko said. “They weren’t focusing on education. It was about who would be able to get the votes.”
Medico Olenginski said she has second thoughts about completing Griffith’s term because she applied before the party put her on the ballot.
“Now that I received the ballot nomination, I think it would be best to withdraw from completing the rest of the controller term. I’d love to get started in the office, but don’t want anyone to say that I have received an unfair advantage,” Medico Olenginski said.
Fairness issue raised
Democrat Michelle Bednar, who will run against Medico Olenginski for controller, has questioned the fairness of putting Medico Olenginski in the temporary post because it would provide public exposure that could benefit her as a candidate for the office. Bednar could not be reached for comment Monday.
The controller elected Nov. 5 will take office in January and receive $64,999 annually for four years.
Medico Olenginski questions why some people are challenging her qualifications for the ballot nomination. She has a master’s degree in human resources administration from the University of Scranton, 20 years of experience as a management consultant, seminar facilitator and staff trainer and was twice elected county prothonotary.
“I have a master’s degree and eight years of experience in government,” she said Monday.
Ceppa-Hirko has a master’s degree in business administration with an accounting concentration and has held several private sector controller and accounting positions. She said she is currently laid off from her position as a tax accountant at DeAngelo Brothers Inc. in Hazleton.
Council will meet at 7 tonight to discuss the applications and a plan to interview and select someone to complete Griffith’s term. Interested Republicans have until 4:30 p.m. today to apply.
A temporary appointee would be paid $1,406 every two weeks through Jan. 3.
Council Chairman Tim McGinley said council may drop the matter if no Republicans are willing to interview for the post.
Controller’s office senior auditor Patricia Llewellyn has served as acting controller since Griffith’s recent resignation.
The only other potential applicant who has publicly expressed an interest in completing Griffith’s term is Alice Coffman, a certified public accountant who has owned her own accounting/tax business — Coffman & Associates in Conyngham — since 1996. Coffman was undecided last week and could not be reached for comment Monday on whether she will apply.
County Councilman Rick Morelli, a Republican, said Medico Olenginski’s entry in the controller’s race has raised questions about how she would interact with county Manager Robert Lawton and council if she is elected.
Medico Olenginski is the county’s elected prothonotary until her term expires the end of this year, when the position is permanently eliminated under home rule. Lawton instructed Medico Olenginski to stay home in September 2012 after the two disagreed over her responsibilities under home rule.
“I want someone who will be a watchdog but not try to undermine the manager and council and the entire home rule government system,” Morelli said.
Medico Olenginski said she would approach the office with an open mind but believes opposing views are “healthy for government.”
“My agenda has always been good government. Now that we have home rule, we have to work to make it the best we can. I don’t want us to have another crisis,” she said.