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Possible changes coming for Luzerne County government

The first step involves an introduction at Tuesday night's council meeting in Wilkes-Barre.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Luzerne County is one of seven counties in the state that is incorporated under a Home Rule Charter. That means the county's residents can make decisions at the ballot box about how they are governed.

Twelve years ago, people in Luzerne County voted to adopt a new charter to go from a commissioner form of government to what it has now — a county manager and 11 council members.

"Big thing between the commissioner form of government and the current form of government under Home Rule is the commissioners were the head of both the executive and the legislative branches of government. In this form of government, the manager is the head of the executive branch, and the council is the head of the legislative branch. The court's judicial branch has always stayed by itself," explained Luzerne County councilman Tim McGinley.

On Tuesday night, council is expected to vote about whether to start a process that could lead to the county going back to a commissioner form of government or changing to something else.

"I think there are several people who feel that the charter and the way it's written, there are some deficiencies in the charter, and feel that it's necessary to have a study commissioned to look at that. There are other people who feel the charter's pretty well done but need some amendments or revisions. So those are two schools of thought on that," explained McGinley.

But that doesn't mean any changes would happen anytime soon. Several votes, both by council and county residents, must take place before that could happen.

First, a member of the council will introduce the idea of adopting a study commission ordinance.

"Who looks at the form of government that's in place, and they're able to write a form of government that they think is better," added McGinley.

If four of the 11 council members favor the introduction, then an official council vote will take place on January 24.

That vote is step two. A majority vote by council would lead to the inclusion of a question on the May primary ballot to ask voters if they think a study should be done to look into changing the county's government.

"If it gets support, receives more than a majority, then of course that would become a law that would go for, and the next step would be to have to decide on the membership," said McGinley.

The third step is for five residents of Luzerne County to run for positions on that study commission. An election for that would take place in November's general election.

The fourth step would be for those five members to propose a new charter or governing system for the county. Then that would come to a vote as early as the May primary in 2024.

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