Four candidates are running in the Republican and Democratic May 21st Primary Election for Luzerne County Controller. Two of those candidates, contending for the Democratic nomination for the November General Election, are Stephen A. Urban and Michelle Bednar. The other two are seeking the Republican nod: current officeholder Walter Griffith and his challenger, Karen Ceppa-Hirko. Anyone wishing to run as an independent or third party candidate will need to turn in to Voter Services no fewer than 636 valid signatures of registered voters no later than August 1st at 5 pm.
The Gazette received the following responses and interviews.
From the Urban campaign:
“[Democrat] Stephen A. Urban previously served as a Luzerne County Commissioner for twelve years. Currently, Mr. Urban serves as the Chairman of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority and as a member of the Luzerne County Council which was established under the Luzerne County Home Rule Charter in 2010.
“Mr. Urban believes he is the most qualified candidate running for county controller. He has extensive knowledge of county operations and has the insight to monitor and examine County Government Operations and to conduct fiscal, performance, management and department audits of county offices and agencies.
“Under the new Luzerne County Home Rule Charter the Controller is a full-time position and is to serve as an independent watchdog over County fiscal and management activities.
“Prior to service as a Luzerne County Commissioner, Mr. Urban served on active duty with the US Army for more than twenty-four years. He holds a Bachelors degree from Kings College [in] Wilkes-Barre, a Master of Public Administration degree from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, CA, and a Master of Art degree from the US Naval War College, Newport, RI.
“Mr. Urban can be reached at 570-262-9840.”
The Gazette caught up with Republican candidate Walter Griffith at April’s NEPA Blogfest, held at Rooney’s Irish Pub in Pittston. Here’s what he had to say: “It’s important to keep the office of the controller independent, and I have a true, proven track record that I’m an independent controller. My track record for the past 3-1/2 years has demonstrated that I will not play politics with the authority of the controller’s office. I think at this juncture, with the Home Rule Charter and the abilities with the [county] manager to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, we need to have someone in that office that clearly will stand up for the people of the county and say, ‘Now, you can’t do that, because that’s not fair to the people of this county.’ And if we don’t have that voice as an independent watchdog, as the only elected official left in the county, other than county council, who can’t interfere, by charter—the charter clearly tells them they can’t interfere with the day-to-day operations of the manager—who is going to interfere with the day-to-day operations of the manager, if it isn’t the controller?”
When asked about the most difficult aspect of his past 3-1/2 years in the controller’s office, Griffith spoke of changing the perception of the controller’s role as an accusatory, “gotcha” position. “Our government needs to run better and it needs to run openly for the people,” he commented.
Griffith’s biggest accomplishment? “Getting the audits done of all the row offices that haven’t been done for decades.”
Griffith’s campaign website is www.walter-griffith.com, and he may be reached at Imabari1@aol.com, or at 570-239-0025.
Republican Karen Ceppa-Hirko possesses a Master’s Degree in accounting and is employed by Hazelton firm DeAngelo Brothers, managing tax preparations within 43 states, local KOZ issues, and other matters.
Karen spoke to the local Campaign for Liberty group in mid-April and told them that she wants to educate the citizens of the county about the significant changes to the controller’s responsibilities and authority as a result of the Home Rule Charter adoption. Karen noted in this regard, “The controller’s office is now an auditing position,” claiming that she “would be beneficial for the taxpayers, if I got in as the auditor . . . for the taxpayers, because that’s what you basically do.”
Karen continued: “My goal is to go ahead and be a steward for the taxpayers. I’d like to oversee everything that’s going on with the county, [and] bring it to people’s attention. I’d like to open up, maybe, a web page, to let everybody know what I’m gonna be working on, if I get in as controller. Let everybody know if there [are] any issues, [and] where we can actually save money in each of the departments. With my experience as having a Master’s Degree in accounting, I think I would be able to look at the expenditures, and see where everything is being overspent . . . people should know what’s going on [in the controller's office].”
Karen may be reached at email@example.com or via her Facebook group at Karen Ceppa-Hirko for Luzerne County Controller.