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Jury commissioners to be abolished

Published May 11. 2012 05:02PM

Carbon County will abolish its jury commissioner positions on Jan. 1, 2014.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted unanimously to abolish the office of jury commissioner after the completion of this term of office, pursuant to Act 108 of 2011. Joanne Poluka-Maurer and Joe Steber currently hold the positions of jury commissioners.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, explained the action the board took was a result of a long-awaited act, which was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett in mid-December, 2011.

Prior to the vote, solicitor Daniel Miscavige explained that under the act, counties can abolish the positions at the end of the terms as long as they have confirmation from the court of common pleas that there is a process in place, which provides an adequate jury pool.

"We have confirmation from President Judge (Roger) Nanovic that that is the case in Carbon County," he said.

Commissioner William O'Gurek explained that the Carbon Court of Common Pleas is using state Department of Transportation's driver's license registration list for its pool of prospective jurors. The pool has been certified by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as an allowable pool that represents a good cross section of the community.

He added that the reason for the act was because computerization of jury selection has diminished the need for jury commissioners.

In Carbon, court administration uses a computer to complete selections and other duties formerly completed by jury commissioners.

O'Gurek also noted that this action will save the county in excess of $20,000 annually.

Nothstein explained that some jury commissioners had filed an appeal and a hearing was held in Commonwealth Court in Pittsburgh on April 18. No ruling has yet to be announced.

"We're very confident that the commissioners will prevail," Nothstein said, adding that several counties are waiting the ruling before acting on abolishing the positions.

The act abolishing jury commissioners has been in the works for years.

Since 2005, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania had been urging legislators to eliminate jury commissioners because the positions are no longer needed.

In 2010, the bill that would have eliminated the positions passed in the House and Senate, but was vetoed by former Gov. Ed Rendell for other reasons not associated with the topic.

In other matters, the commissioners provided an update on the countywide narrowband radio project.

During the meeting, the board voted unanimously to authorize the purchase orders for narrowband radio equipment from Radio Maintenance Inc. under Costar's contract.

Nothstein explained that this purchase, which cost over $200,000, is the initial purchase of radio equipment for the 911 communication center and EMS services.

Once this equipment is received, the county will begin to coordinate the change over to narrowband frequencies.

The first phase will be to equip the 911 communications center, then EMS services will follow. The next phase will include updating police radios and finally fire department radios.

"It will take a lot of coordination and effort and manpower to make this happen at the same time," Nothstein said, adding that the total cost of the project is not known yet.

Carbon County has been working on the narrowbanding project with area municipalities since early last year when the county commissioners decided to help ease the burden of emergency personnel by applying for a countywide grant.

The county then hired Delta Development Group Inc. of Mechanicsburg at a cost of $10,000 to handle the $1.4 million Local Share grant application.

In January, county officials received word that they will be receiving $907,453 of local share funds to complete the project.

The reason for the joint project was because a Federal Communications Commission mandate reduces the radio frequency to 12.5 kHz bandwidth to allow for more radio channels for emergencies. All municipalities and counties in the country must comply with this mandate by Jan. 1, 2013 or they could face a $10,000 a day fine.

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