Last updated: February 16. 2013 6:02PM - 497 Views

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Some Luzerne County employees don't plan to sign a form agreeing to comply with the new county ethics code by Friday's deadline, prompting debate during Monday's county Accountability, Conduct and Ethics Commission meeting.

Reasons for not signing include the code's potential clash with union contracts and the judicial system's separation of power.

Some court employees and attorneys employed by the county also question the need to sign when they're already required to follow professional codes of conduct, officials said.

County Controller Walter Griffith said he will file an ethics complaint against all employees who fail to sign by the deadline.

One union -- the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, or AFSCME -- sent a letter to its employees Monday advising them against signing, Griffith said.

He said the code adopted by county council doesn't leave wiggle room because it states employees must sign the form "as a condition of continued employment."

Griffith questioned if county Manager Robert Lawton, also a commission member, will take personnel action against employees who won't sign.

Lawton said employees must obey the code and can't successfully claim ignorance of its requirements, even if they don't sign.

He said he expects a small percentage won't sign.

Commission Chairwoman Margaret Hogan said she wants to discuss concerns with non-signers, saying she believes all employees will sign after disagreements are resolved.

Codes of conduct, including the one governing the court system, contain wording that allow adherence to additional codes, as long as the two don't contradict, she said.

A commission majority agreed to take a non-confrontational approach.

Kingston resident Brian Shiner criticized the majority's direction, saying the code is clear about the requirement.

He said any employee arguments against signing the form are "ridiculous," and the commission's willingness to hold off on enforcement is "even more absurd."

"Enough is enough. Separate them from their paychecks," Shiner said. "You need to be firm. You need to stop being wishy-washy."

County District Attorney Stefanie J. Salavantis, also a commission member, said she wants to "step delicately" because forced signing could lead to costly litigation from employees over alleged union contract violations.

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