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Jury commissioner post up in air in county

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

KITTANNING — Armstrong County Commissioners have not decided if they will follow the majority of counties in the state and eliminate the county's two part-time elected jury commissioner positions.

They have until Dec. 31, or six working days, to make up their minds.

“We've discussed it but we haven't done anything about it,” said Commissioner Bob Bower.

“We haven't had the time to talk to everyone involved to make a decision. We actually forgot about it and we're now being reminded. We have until the end of the year to decide.”

The county has one scheduled public meeting remaining this year — Thursday — in which to vote on whether to eliminate or do nothing and therefore keep the jury commissioner positions.

A state law passed in 2011 allows county officials to take the action, but still requires counties to continue performing the role of the office which is to keep a jury pool available for trials and send out jury summons to potential jurors.

“Who is going to take up the slack?” asked Bower. “Is there a savings for the county?”

Many of those counties that have abolished the positions have indicated that they would need to hire a part-time employee and most likely carry out the duties through the court administrator's office as alternatives.

The two elected jury commissioners in Armstrong each earn about $10,000 in salary plus benefits.

The offices are held by Patricia Fiorina and Karen Schreckengost.

According to the law, a resolution cannot be passed in any year in which the office of jury commissioner is on the ballot, which will be in 2013 to elect them for another four-year term beginning in 2014 and ending in 2017.

If the position is eliminated, the jury commissioners would complete their current term until the end of 2013.

Expenses, including their salary and benefits, are included in the 2013 budget proposal, the commissioners said.

A preliminary budget summary shows an operational cost of $77,460 for the office.

“I will support the commissioners on whatever decision they make,” said Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Kenneth Valasek when asked about the issue.

He added, “Somebody has to take over that job,” and suggested that the duties might pass to the office of the Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts if the elected position is eliminated.

“We would need additional staff,” said Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts Brenda C. George.

Mitch Fryer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or mfryer@tribweb.com.

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