One of the employees to be laid off warns of negative impact to Luzerne County voting

Last updated: August 24. 2013 12:44AM - 2312 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Luzerne County voting machine technician David Bartuski said he and two other election office employees were notified Friday they are losing their jobs.

The county never hired someone to replace machine technician Wayne Manini, who retired after the May primary, which means the office will be down to six full-time employees when the furloughs take effect Sept. 6, Bartuski said.

Machine technician Keith Deleman and clerk Karla Lavelle also were informed they will be furloughed, he said.

“My opinion is our new director couldn’t run elections with the staff she had, let alone minus people,” said Bartuski, a 16-year election employee. “I don’t believe the staff here is going to be large enough to comply with all election functions.”

County Manager Robert Lawton told council in an email Friday night the restructuring will bring the staff to seven full-time funded positions. A new deputy director position will be created and filled through a public recruitment process, he said.

In the end, the shuffling of positions will save $25,000 in salaries and benefits the rest of this year and $124,000 in 2014, Lawton told council.

Lawton said the reorganization is “made possible and necessary” by technology advancements.

County Election Director Marisa Crispell-Barber said the staff reductions are part of streamlining she promised after she was hired as permanent election director in December.

“I have complete faith in the staff that we’ll be able to fulfill all responsibilities to maintain the integrity of elections in Luzerne County,” Crispell-Barber said.

Crispell-Barber said she publicly disclosed she was reviewing staffing levels months ago but wanted to observe operations in the May primary before finalizing her plan. She also assisted as an interim contracted director in the November 2012 general due to interim election director Tom Pizano’s sudden retirement.

“The office is undergoing a reorganization and restructuring of positions to make the office more efficient and in line with staffing levels in other similarly sized counties,” Crispell-Barber said.

Restructuring plan

When the restructuring takes effect, the office will have three voter registrars, a voting machine technician and clerk in addition to the director and new deputy director.

Luzerne County has 189 voting precincts and around 195,000 registered voters.

Crispell-Barber pointed to Lehigh County, which has a staff of seven full-timers to handle 218,000 registered voters and 153 voting precincts.

Neighboring Lackawanna County, which is ranked third-class in size like Lehigh and Luzerne, has four full-time employees — a director, elections manager and two registrars, said Marion Medalis, the county’s elections director. Lackawanna County has 163 voting precincts and about 145,700 registered voters, Medalis said.

Medalis said that county’s information technology staff assists with voting machine testing before elections, and a part-timer and employees from other county departments help with phone calls and other duties if the office becomes overloaded shortly before elections.

At a December meeting about the county’s 2013 budget, Luzerne County Councilman Eugene Kelleher questioned the need for three voting machine technicians at a combined cost of $139,479 with salaries and benefits in addition to five voter registrars.

“When the election’s not there, what do they do?” he asked.

Lawton said at the time that machine technicians were “for lack of a better word, an artifact,” from the days when the county had lever voting machines that required specialized maintenance. The electronic voting machines require less upkeep, and some of that support is provided by the machine supplier, he said.

Union head Paula Schnelly, of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, which represents the impacted election employees, said she is still assessing the situation but questioned the logic of implementing the changes this close to the Nov. 5 general election.

Technician duties

Bartuski said the technicians keep the machines in working order but also handle additional responsibilities between elections. For example, they have been surveying all polling places to determine if they are accessible to people with disabilities.

The technicians also assisted with proofing of ballots and training of poll workers and temporary rovers who are on call to help with machine problems on election day, but he said Crispell-Barber stopped assigning those duties to the technicians before the May primary.

He also doubts three voter registrars will be able to stay on top of changing registrations and other work related to 189 precincts. “They’re losing a lot of knowledge. They’re headed in the opposite direction,” he said.

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