Sunday, July 13, 2014

Flood board needs new lawyer

February 17. 2013 7:55AM

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The Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority must obtain its own lawyer because the county solicitor's office will no longer provide representation, officials said.

The authority has moved its monthly meeting from Oct. 16 to Monday to discuss the hiring of a solicitor.

County Solicitor Vito DeLuca said the county stopped providing legal counsel because of the actual or perceived conflict between the county and authority over the validity of four authority board seatholders.

"I don't feel comfortable having my lawyers advise a board where the county manager and council have determined board members are sitting where they shouldn't be," DeLuca said.

Council voted Tuesday to ask four authority members to voluntarily resign from their unpaid seats by noon today to avoid a court battle.

Officials say the seats held by county Councilman Stephen A. Urban and citizens William Falls, Doug Ayers and Kevin O'Brien are invalid because the state never approved the prior county administration's article of incorporation amendments changing the authority board structure.

The five-member authority oversees the Wyoming Valley Levee System and other flood control projects. Officials say county Planning/Zoning Director Adrian Merolli is the only member with a valid seat.

If the four board members stay put as expected, council would have to decide how to react. Three options have been proposed:

• Allow the four members to continue serving until article of incorporation amendments are resubmitted. The four could be validated if the state approves the change. DeLuca recommended this option.

• Implement the past state-approved board structure by returning an assistant county engineer to the board and adding three citizen members appointed by the manager with council confirmation. The four current board members may then sue, arguing they were replaced without due process.

• File court action asking a judge to vacate the four seats. This type of action must be filed by the state attorney general, county district attorney or the two people entitled to hold or fill the seats – an assistant county engineer or the county manager.

DeLuca said he has informed the authority its new legal counsel should not represent the four board members if they challenge their removal.

"My position is that they'd have to pay for their own counsel. I think it could be argued that it would not be an appropriate use of public funds to defend whether or not individuals have the right to be in a board position," DeLuca said.

DeLuca said the four could be forced to repay legal bills if they rely on the authority to fund their representation.

County Controller Walter Griffith, who discovered the lack of state approval for the article of incorporation, sent a letter to the county district attorney and state attorney general seeking an investigation of the matter.

District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said she is reviewing documents submitted by Griffith and will respond shortly.

If you go

The Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority will meet 11 a.m. Monday at the county Emergency Management Agency Building, Water Street, Wilkes-Barre.

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