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W-B council ordeal over, officials say

County solicitor says reduction issue was put to bed with judge’s ruling.

In the eyes of Luzerne County officials, the saga over the Wilkes-Barre City Council reduction from seven to five seats is finally over.

During Thursday’s county Election Board meeting, county Solicitor Neil O’Donnell handed out copies of a county judicial ruling that rejected an attempt to get the five council members elected at large, rather than by district.

Voters approved the by-district plan in 2001, but a series of roadblocks prevented it from taking effect.

“It’s a strongly worded opinion and I think it was an appropriate decision and I’m glad to be putting this issue to bed,” O’Donnell told the board. “This is what I hope to be truly the final word on the Wilkes-Barre City referendum.”

O’Donnell said he went through the effort to obtain a written transcript of the ruling because it “so strongly affirmed” the Election Board’s position that the by-district reduction must take effect immediately.

Voters will get to choose the five in 2007, county officials said.

Attorney Samuel Sanguedolce, who represented city resident Anne Bergold in her quest to get the at-large referendum on the November ballot, said an appeal won’t be feasible with the election around the corner.

Bergold was concerned that voters chose the reduction to five but didn’t realize they would be selected by district.

“I think a new referendum question would have given a chance to clear that up,” Sanguedolce said.

O’Donnell said he has received “a lot of inquiries” from people interested in running in the districts.

He is writing a letter to city officials reminding them that they must change an error in the written city home-rule charter that says the five will be elected at large. That must be done before candidates start circulating nominating petitions early next year, O’Donnell said.

City Council President Tony Thomas said Thursday that there will be no resistance.

“We have every intention of changing that language,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he hopes city voters, especially the elderly, realize that they’ll only get to choose one council candidate instead of seven.

He plans to run for re-election and predicts a slew of contenders will enter the race, thinking that they have a better chance of winning by district.

“Last time we had over 30 that ran, and I assume there will be more,” he said. “It’s going to be crazy.”

In other business, county Election Bureau Director Leonard Piazza said he is confident heading into Tuesday’s election because of intense election worker training and a thorough public awareness refresher on how to use the new ATM-like voting machines.

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