The hotel sits rotting at Market and River Streets, forcing a year-long traffic detour for fear of collapse. City Vest, the non-profit group formed to rehabilitate the property, fumbled miserably. Its critics saying $6 million was flushed down the drain.
The audit, posted on the internet earlier this month by the federal government, became a point of friction at a budget hearing Monday night.
Why did the county manager and another county official sit on it?
Andy Reilly, director of the county's Office of Community Development, was accused of withholding the audit from county council members. He responded to their criticisms saying he didn't feel it was appropriate to respond or speak to the audit since he had only received a courtesy copy and that the county had yet to receive formal notification.
Councilman Harry Haas countered, "I feel like I was in the dark here."
Reilly later said he had actually responded to the HUD audit in a "draft format."
County Manager Robert Lawton defended Reilly saying he was aware of the audit and claimed there was no intent to hide the document from county council.
Reilly said he received the audit on November 7. The Citizens' Voice published an article today detailing the audit's critical findings of the hotel property. Most council members vented frustration at having to read about it in the paper.
"There was an established protocol that we were trying to follow," said Lawton.
Councilman Steve Urban challenged Lawton while pounding the table and saying, "This is the government," a reference to county council members and a familiar allegation by Urban that they're often kept in the dark by the administration.
Lawton responded questioning whether the audit would have remained confidential if brought up in an executive session of council.
The Pennsylvania Sunshine Law provides for discussion of issues in executive session related to legal, real estate, personnel and contractual matters. Legal experts say the county manager likely could not have legally raised the audit with county council behind closed doors.
Both Lawton and Reilly appeared to believe the audit was a confidential document that could not be shared publicly.
The county has pledged $230,000 to demolish the hotel. Wilkes-Barre city officials are in the process of receiving bids for demolition.
Reilly said he vehemently disagreed with the HUD audit and opined that the county would never have to refund the $6 million in grant money.
Meanwhile, county council members continued toiling on the 2013 budget.
Councilman Rick Morelli has led the charge to strip part-time county workers of the benefits packages.
Four part-timers have since been identified by the county manager. Lawton said savings would approach $45,000. All work in the county solicitor's office.
Some council members called such a savings "insignificant."
Morelli rebutted the "old way of doing business" has to change.
There are 20 more part-time workers in the district attorney's and public defender's offices receiving benefits. Those benefits are protected by a collective bargaining agreement.
Council members are also eyeballing the county work week, which is currently 32.5 hours. They believe hours should be expanded to 40.
A vote on the part-time benefits is expected on Tuesday night.