Changes made to county meeting format

In her first regular meeting as chair, Commissioner Elizabeth Arnold instituted some changes to the meeting format – adding a moment of silence following the Pledge of Allegiance, and changing the way the board would take public comment.

In another major personnel change in the commissioners’ office, Commissioner Judy Herschel, motioned to “eliminate, with regret, the services” of Michael Giangrieco as the county solicitor. Arnold seconded the motion, and the two registered “yes” votes.

Giangrieco’s health benefits will continue until the end of the month. Giangrieco, who served as the county solicitor for the past four years, along with a prior tenure in that position, also served as a county commissioner for eight years but did not seek re-election to the post in 2016.

Arnold explained, “He did not resign; we did not rehire him.”

Commissioner Alan Hall sounded the lone dissenting vote against the move to eliminate Giangrieco’s services to the county.

Herschel then motioned to approve the hiring of Francis X. O’Conner as the county solicitor, at an annual salary of $37,500. The motion was seconded by Arnold. O’Conner is a previous president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Hall registered a vote in opposition to the hiring of O’Conner as the county solicitor.

As chair, Arnold moved the public comment period to the beginning of the meeting for both agenda items and items not before the commissioners. Previously, the commissioners accepted questions on each separate agenda item, with a general comment time offered at the end of the meeting.

Following the closure of the public comment period, it was discovered that a page of business items to be voted on by the commissioners had been inadvertently omitted from the final draft. The Chief Clerk rectified the matter by printing out the missing page and distributing it to the commissioners and members of the public in attendance.

The commissioners, however, did not allow public comment on those newly presented items prior to voting on them, but – following an objection by this reporter – opened up those items for questions and discussion prior to the close of the meeting.

With Monday, Jan. 6, as Herschel’s official first day, there were a number of items before the board – dated prior to her first day – where she abstained from the vote. She, however, did not provide a reason for any of the abstentions.

Commissioners Arnold and Hall voted in favor of joining the National Association of Counties (NACo) at a cost of $867. Membership will run through Dec. 31. Herschel abstained.

Arnold said the county is a member of the statewide CCAP (County Commissioners Assoc. of Pa.) and that NACo was similar – offering educational opportunities as well as a presence representing national county-level interests in Washington, D.C.

NACo member counties surround Susquehanna County, with Bradford, Sullivan, Wyoming, Lackawanna and Wayne counties included. On the northern border, Broome and Tioga counties in New York are not members of NACo,

The county is entering an agreement with the Wayne County Correctional Facility to house Susquehanna County inmates in the event of an overflow situation at the county jail. Cost attached to the agreement is $65 per day/per inmate.

Arnold said she was not aware of any inmates currently being housed at the WCCF. Hall confirmed that there are none housed out of the county at this time. He also noted that Wayne County also has a juvenile facility the county could use with this agreement if needed.

Herschel abstained from the vote but did not provide a reason.

In other business:

The commissioners appropriated $40,000 in county matching funds for agricultural easement purchases for the 2020 program year.

The commissioners also signed the annual maintenance and service agreement with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Institute for software used in the district attorney’s office and at the county jail. The county pays none of the maintenance fee.

An agreement was also entered with Optical Storage Solutions Inc. for software maintenance and support of the Landex/Oracle database, at an annual cost of $22,780, per the recommendation of Register/Recorder Michelle Estabrook.

The commissioners also approved advertising to accept bids for the sale of a 2013 Chevrolet Traverse and a 2013 Chevrolet Equinox.

The commissioners ratified and accepted, with regret, the resignation of Donald MacRae Jr., from the position of County Detective/School Resource Officer, effective Dec. 31, 2019, per the recommendation of DA Marion O’Malley. Herschel abstained from the vote.

The resignation of Bill Kelley Sr. from the Economic Development Advisory Board was accepted, with regret, effective Dec. 19.

Robert Heed II was appointed to serve on the Economic Development Advisory Board in the open position, effective immediately through the expiration of that term on Dec. 31, 2021.

Although that appointment on the agenda was dated as effective Wednesday, Jan. 8, Herschel also abstained from that vote, but did not give a reason for the abstention. 

In the public comment portion of the meeting, the commissioners were asked why the county was paying $63,000 in legal fees to the legal firm that represented O’Malley in the case where her appointment to the post in 2018 was challenged by former assistant district attorney, Bill Urbanski.

Arnold said the commissioners were advised by the solicitor to pay the fee.

A brief salary board meeting saw the elimination of the part-time, temporary real estate clerk position in the Sheriff’s Office, per the recommendation of Sheriff Lance Benedict.

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