County Council Approves Settlement With Piazza

March 14, 2018 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Council on Tuesday approved a $56,000 settlement of a lawsuit brought against the county by former county elections director Leonard Piazza.

Council voted 6-4 to approve the settlement, which was recommended by the county solicitor’s office.

Piazza alleged in his suit that then-county Manager Robert Lawton terminated him from his position in April 2012 for political reasons.

Piazza claimed his attempt to research campaign finance information about former county Controller Walter L. Griffith Jr. led Lawton to fire him.

County council had deadlocked on the settlement 5-5 in August 2017, with Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck absent.

On Tuesday, Houck voted against the settlement, as did councilmen Edward Brominski, Stephen A. Urban and Harry Haas.

Council members Tim McGinley, Eugene Kelleher, Jane Walsh Waitkus and Robert Schnee voted in favor of the settlement, as they had last year. Councilmen Chris Perry and Matthew Vough, who took office in January, also voted in favor. Councilwoman Sheila Saidman was absent.

Council members did not comment about the settlement after the vote, but several speakers in public comment, including Griffith, urged council to reject the settlement.

Griffith said a private attorney who worked on behalf of the county told him the case would be “a slam dunk” win if it went to trial later this year.

Griffith, who resigned as controller in 2013 after pleading guilty in a wiretapping case, said Piazza “did something egregious in this county and he should be held accountable just like I was.”

Most of the settlement will be covered by the county’s insurance carrier, but the county will have to pay about $19,000 from its insurance deductible, according to county Manager David Pedri.

Also on Tuesday, council heard a presentation from Election Systems & Software, or ESS, the company the county is negotiating with to provide it with an electronic poll book system for future elections.

Representatives of ESS demonstrated the company’s electronic universal voting system, which coordinates countywide voter information at all of the county’s polling places and prints individual slips for each voter, including party registration. That information would prove especially helpful during primary elections, ESS representatives said.

They told council members the system would greatly reduce the possibility of human error by elections workers, and would reduce wait times for voters in line when problems arise on election day.

Pedri said the proposed contract with ESS should come before council within the next month.

Also, council will hold public hearings in two weeks regarding proposed ordinances that would authorize budget transfers to fund projects supported by county administration, including the outsourcing of the county’s payroll processing to a private firm.

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