Last updated: February 17. 2013 9:46AM - 28 Views

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Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and County Manager Robert Lawton issued a release this afternoon announcing their plans to jointly file court action trying to vacate four county Flood Protection Authority seats.
The "rarely-used" action, called “quo warranto,” asks a judge to determine a person's right to hold office.
Salavantis stressed she and Lawton are not questioning the "personal integrity" of the authority members whose seats are being challenged.
"I thank them for serving the public in this capacity. Nonetheless, state law vests jurisdiction in the District Attorney to bring this issue to court when an individual’s right to hold office is legitimately questioned," Salavantis said.
Salavantis noted the authority's ability to spend tax money, saying "I believe it is important that the court affirm or deny the legitimacy of their positions."
The district attorney's office has not historically interfered in matters questioning the legitimacy of an elected official to serve, she said.
This is different because three of the four impacted authority members were appointed by former commissioners or council, she said.
County Councilman Stephen A. Urban kept the fourth impacted seat because he was previously a commissioner.
"Because we are not setting aside the will of the public as voters, I feel comfortable asking the court to resolve this dispute," she wrote.
A county council majority voted Tuesday to ask Lawton to file the court action. Council had unsuccessfully asked the four members to give up their seats because the state never approved pre-home rule article of incorporation changes amending the board's make-up.
Lawton has legal standing to seek the vacancies because the home rule charter says he fills authority seats previously held by the three commissioners.
If the court agrees the four seats should be vacated, Lawton could choose to fill a seat himself and leave the other former commissioner slots empty. He also could appoint others to fill some or all three seats.
An assistant county engineer also would return to the authority board.
In addition to Urban, the impacted board members are citizens William Falls, Doug Ayers and Kevin O'Brien.
The authority supports county Solicitor Vito DeLuca's recommendation to allow the four to serve while the state amendments are resubmitted.
A council majority rejected that option, saying it won't ignore the procedural error.
The authority has hired Scranton attorney Christopher Cullen.
County Solicitor David Schwager has said it could take months for a judge to decide the matter.
The five-member authority oversees the Wyoming Valley Levee System and other flood control projects. County officials say county Planning/Zoning Director Adrian Merolli is the only member with no seat validity issues.

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