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Luzerne County election director resigns

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Luzerne County Election Director Michael Susek has submitted his resignation, according to county Manager Randy Robertson.

Susek’s last day will be Aug. 11, which puts his tenure at eight months — continuing a turnover problem with the high-profile managerial position.

He is the third election director since Marissa Crispell resigned from the position in September 2019, following criticism over her participation in vendor-funded advisory board trips.

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Crispell’s successor, Shelby Watchilla, left for another position in December 2020, after a year in the position. Bob Morgan, the next director, departed in October 2021 after six months on the job, also to accept employment outside county government.

Robertson released Susek’s resignation letter, which thanked Robertson for the chance to meet and discuss his plans earlier this week.

“I appreciate your commitment to the organization’s success and for encouraging me to give this some additional consideration. I did take your advice to heart and truly gave this decision a great amount of thought. However, my final decision is to pursue another opportunity,” Susek wrote.

Susek said he will be working for an organization “committed to advancing elections integrity and the profession as a whole on a national level.”

“I know this opportunity is aligned with my family and career goals,” Susek wrote.

Susek said he has enjoyed his time working in the bureau and collaborating with the many staff supporting the bureau. He described the bureau staff as a “strong team of dedicated individuals” and said the county has an “amazing support network” of employees from other departments assisting with elections.

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“I am also confident that the existing management team of Deputy Director Beth McBride and Operations Manager Emily Cook will do an outstanding job. Although we have only worked together a short time, I have seen nothing but professionalism and a commitment to serving the public. I will be proud to vote as a registered elector in Luzerne County this November,” Susek said.

He promised to work with the county for a “smooth transition.”

Word of Susek’s planned departure started spreading this week. Approached at his office in the election bureau Thursday afternoon, Susek declined comment.

Challenging position

The election director position is particularly challenging because this manager is a county employee but also required to work with an increasingly involved five-citizen, volunteer election board.

Robertson did not yet announce specific plans to handle office oversight during the search for a permanent new director.

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Cook was hired in March, and McBride started work as deputy election director on July 15.

McBride is new to the bureau. Cook started working for the bureau as an administrative assistant last September.

Both are non-union administrative positions. The bureau also employs five unionized administrative assistants.

There is no administrative division head in place to step in. Robertson is preparing to review applications for that division head position overseeing the election bureau and seven other departments. David Parsnik, the last permanent administrative services head, had resigned in September.

Defended McBride hire

During an election board meeting Wednesday night, Susek said he stood behind his recent decision to hire McBride.

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Several citizens sharply criticized McBride’s hiring during public comment, in part because she will continue to serve as a Wilkes-Barre Council member until that seat expires.

The county law office concluded there are no legal prohibitions for McBride to work as election deputy while serving the remainder of her city council term, with the agreement that she won’t be running for re-election.

Susek said he never met McBride before she applied for the position and disputed any implication politics was involved. He also criticized “sexist” online comments made about her.

He also noted he supports free speech but has personally received menacing voicemails since he started as election director in December that, at times, have made him uncomfortable coming to election board meetings. Some election directors across the country have received death threats, he had said.

A Plains Township native and 1996 Coughlin High School graduate, Susek came to the county with 15 years of elections administration experience through positions in three Colorado counties. He also has master’s degrees in philosophy and public administration.

Susek was already familiar with Luzerne County election operations because he worked as a consultant for The Elections Group last fall providing Nov. 2 general election support to the county.

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He has been receiving $64,500 annually in the county position, which is the same compensation that had been paid to the last two directors.

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