LAWRENCE COUNTY Panel debates change in government form

Former commissioners told the study group that the current form of government is best.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- The commission studying whether there should be a change in county government got a chance to listen to the input of past and current county commissioners.
The three current commissioners and two former commissioners were quizzed Tuesday by the nine-member study commission on the workings of county government and their views on things such as merit hiring and nepotism policies.
The commission was elected last fall to study the structure of county government and determine if there is a more efficient and cost-effective form of county government available.
Any recommendations ultimately will have to be approved by voters.
Stage of study: The group is still gathering information on the current three-commissioner form of government and has not started investigating other types of county government.
Thomas Shumaker, commission chairman, said the group expects to start looking at other forms of county government sometime in March or April and eventually will start deliberations on which type would best suit Lawrence County.
The commission members must make a recommendation by September to get the issue on the November general election ballot.
Commission members appear to be struggling with the question of whether the county should keep its current three-commissioner form of government, which gives both legislative and administrative power to the commissioners, or adopt a form that separates the two duties.
They questioned commissioners about their role in creating new jobs in county offices and what type of control commissioners have over hiring in offices governed by other elected county officials.
The commissioners also were asked about their views on implementing a merit hiring process and a nepotism policy.
Where they stand: Commissioner Ed Fosnaught said he would not comment on either without seeing a full proposal.
Commissioner Brian Burick said he was told that merit hiring systems and nepotism policies are not enforceable.
Commissioner Roger DeCarbo said he would agree to a merit system for hiring and raises, but not a nepotism policy.
Paul Tanner and Tom Fee, both former county commissioners, advised the study group to take a hard look at county expenditures.
Both men agreed that the current form of government is best.
Fosnaught would not say which form he thought was best, saying it was up to the study commission to make that decision.
"You either have to rework the whole system or leave the commissioner form of government," Burick said. "I think it would be a mistake to get rid of county commissioners and leave the rest alone. You just end up having more political characters."
The study commission's next meeting will be at 4:15 p.m. March 12 in the county government center. Commission members expect to question other elected county officials about their positions.

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