Karen Ceppa-Hirko has withdrawn her application to fill Walter Griffith’s remaining Luzerne County controller term through the end of the year, but Carolee Medico Olenginski has decided to interview for the temporary assignment.
Ceppa-Hirko withdrew because Republican Party leaders picked Medico Olenginski over her to run for the four-year controller post in November.
Medico Olenginski also had been reconsidering because she didn’t want to be accused of receiving an unfair advantage in the buildup to the election; an appointment to the temporary seat would provide public exposure.
Medico Olenginski said Wednesday she realized she’s the one with the disadvantage because she entered the controller race this week while her Democratic opponent, Michelle Bednar, has been “on the campaign trail” since before the May primary election.
“I don’t have a campaign committee formed,” said Medico Olenginski. “I have to regroup and do the best I can with what I have entering the campaign so late.”
Medico Olenginski, the county prothonotary who is on a forced hiatus, also said the temporary appointment would bring her back to work at no additional cost to taxpayers.
The temporary appointee will be paid $1,406 every two weeks through Jan. 3, when the controller elected in November will take office. Medico Olenginski already is being paid that amount to stay home through the end of the year because county Manager Robert Lawton decided her services are no longer needed last September after the two clashed over her responsibilities under home rule.
Medico Olenginski said she would have to resign as prothonotary if county council appoints her to complete Griffith’s remaining controller term. “This will save taxpayers’ money, and council has the chance to put someone in there who doesn’t need a learning curve,” said Medico Olenginski, who was twice elected county prothonotary.
But some council members are expected to have reservations about putting the Republican controller contender in the temporary position.
Bednar said the temporary appointee should be someone who is not running for the post. “I would expect that the members of County Council will choose the person with the most credentials, and I will respect their decision,” Bednar said Wednesday.
A similar concern has come up in the past. In 2009, former Gov. Ed Rendell purposefully selected nominees for three vacant county judge seats based on their commitment they would not run for those posts when their terms were over.
Council will publicly interview six applicants for the vacant term starting at 6 tonight.
Mountain Top resident Michael Caravaggio also withdrew, leaving the following applicants in addition to Medico Olenginski: Aaron Kaufer, Kingston; Walter Mitchell, Bear Creek Village; John Sokolowski, Plains Township; Peter Gagliardi, Wilkes-Barre; and Malcolm Hudgeon, Wilkes-Barre.
If Mitchell is selected, he must resign as Bear Creek Village mayor because the home rule charter prohibits the controller from holding another elected office. Borough officials would select someone else to serve as mayor through the end of the year, Mitchell said. He is running unopposed as mayor in November and would start a new term in January.
An interview schedule and resumes of the applicants have been posted on the council section of the county website, www.luzernecounty.org. Council members plan to choose someone at their Aug. 27 meeting.