Republican Commissioner Candidates Mix It Up At Debate
SCRANTON — The Republican Lackawanna County commissioner candidates disagreed on the process for hiring employees, with two saying they favor public hiring while the other accused them of downgrading county employees.
At Thursday’s League of Women Voters of Lackawanna County debate at the University of Scranton, candidate Chris Chermak said many problems at the troubled county prison resulted from the hiring of relatives or friends of commissioners.
“The prison’s a disgrace,” Chermak said. “Some of the issues at the county, it comes down to people just don’t know what they’re doing.”
Michael Giannetta, Chermak’s running mate, agreed and called for requiring commissioners to publicly vote on hiring new employees, advertising all job openings and hiring based on merit.
“There’s too much hiring on who you know, who you donated to and what politician you know,” Giannetta said.
County Commissioner Laureen Cummings accused Chermak of condemning hardworking county employees. She said county department heads interview prospective employees and recommend candidates to the commissioners, who interview them before choosing.
“Local government would be paralyzed by the need to make all hiring and firing of county employees at public meetings,” Cummings said. “We get hundreds of applications in the county on a weekly basis.”
The county’s human resources department keeps applications on file so the county always has candidates and doesn’t have to spend money advertising when a job comes open, she said.
On the need to reassess the value of all county property, each said they oppose the idea, but Cummings pointed out Chermak once supported reassessment.
“I’m not sure what changed his mind, but actually I’m happy he did,” Cummings said. She said she worked to ensure new construction gets added to tax rolls and had the results of assessment appeals posted on the county website.
In a recent interview, Chermak said meeting voters over the last year changed his mind about reassessment. Both he and Giannetta said Cummings herself once favored reassessment at a 2015 debate. Cummings did not respond to that claim, which could not be immediately verified.
Giannetta fears reassessment will hurt property owners who bought their homes decades ago.
“Those people are now senior citizens who are retired and on fixed incomes,” he said.
On a question about supporting the arts, Chermak said the county “definitely has to be involved in that.”
Cummings said the county has “great arts and culture programs” and noted that she shifted money away from an expensive library system lecture series, which created $168,000 more for the arts. She wanted to cut the county’s arts and culture tax because she felt the general fund could cover that money, she said.
Giannetta, who said he also favors supporting the arts, criticized Cummings for voting against $500 grants to support Greenfield Twp.’s centennial and a fair in Waverly Twp.
Cummings said she only opposed them because the grants came from state gambling tax money that should have gone toward reducing school property taxes.
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