Washington City council members sent a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, petitioning for the removal of Councilman Matthew Staniszewski, who was recently arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
“Everybody deserves a second chance, but this is the fourth time,” Councilman Joe Manning said Wednesday. “I’ve been getting a lot of push back from the public wanting to know if we were doing anything about this.”
He said asking the governor to remove Staniszewski from office is all they can do.
“I wanted the public to be aware that we are actively doing what we can,” he said. “We can’t force him to resign. He has given no indication that he’ll resign or change his lifestyle.”
Manning, along with Councilman Ken Westcott and Mayor Scott Putnam, signed and sent the letter Tuesday to the governor, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, and state Rep. Timothy O’Neal, R-South Strabane. Manning said Councilmember Monda Williams was also supportive of the letter, though her name was not on it.
“Councilman Staniszewski has shown absolutely no remorse for his wreck-less (sic) and embarrassing behavior, and to allow him to continue to serve in office will further erode public confidence given the multiple violations of the law,” they wrote in the letter.
They asked Staniszewski be removed from his position “in accordance with Third Class City Code.”
“We have to put the public’s best interest first and right now Matt does not possess the judgement to act on matters that affect public policy,” Putnam said in a news release. “We just hope that he gets the help he needs.”
Staniszewski, 42, of 23 Buttonwood Ave., Washington, was unconscious in his vehicle on East Wheeling Street, near Shaffer Avenue, about 1:10 p.m. Aug. 27, according to a city police report. His car was blocking traffic, police said, and there were four empty airplane-sized bottles of liquor on its floor.
When police asked Staniszewski for his driver’s license, he gave them his American Express card and his councilmember badge before handing them his entire wallet, police said. Police said Staniszewski refused to submit to a blood test and demanded to speak to city police Chief Robert Wilson. He was eventually released into the custody of his father.
“He could have very easily killed someone that afternoon,” Manning said. “He couldn’t tell the difference between an American Express card and a driver’s license. At this point, I don’t have a lot of faith in his judgement to deal with public policy and make decisions that affect the public. You’re governing a city and making decisions that affect people lives.”
Staniszewski did not respond to requests for comment, but his attorney, Sean Logue of Pittsburgh, called the letter to the governor “unconstitutional.”
“There is a mechanism for removing a councilman and it’s called an election,” Logue said.
Politics was the purpose of the letter “pure and simple,” Logue said.
“The gentlemen that signed that letter have raised taxes three times in the last three years,” he said. “They’re now making a story out of a simple DUI as a way of covering for their failed leadership. I will defend Matt and we will prevent the disenfranchisement of the voters who have made him a councilman for over a decade.”
Manning said politics had nothing to do with the letter and Staniszewski isn’t “a political opponent.” Manning said when residents and taxpayers found out about Staniszewski’s DUI, they were suspicious of his possibly getting special treatment for being a member of council.
“He’s still getting paid and getting benefits,” Manning said.
Westcott said signing the letter wasn’t political or personal, but he was acting with the “best interest of the city” in mind.
“Matt’s a friend of mine – it’s about his well-being,” Westcott said. “He needs to move on and get the help he needs. Matt had three DUIs before and chose to not step down from council. I think it’s going to be tough for the city to be able to conduct business with this hanging over our heads.”
Staniszewski’s first arrest for DUI was in 2004 and he served a period of probation. He became a member of council in 2006. During his first term on council, he was charged twice with DUI – once for marijuana in December 2006, and once in October 2007 when he crashed a vehicle in North Strabane Township with a blood-alcohol content of 0.29%.
He was sentenced to six to 18 months in jail with work release and permission to attend council meetings and daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Staniszewski has another two years to his third nonconsecutive term. In February 2018, North Strabane Township police cited Staniszewski for summary public drunkenness after he became aggressive with employees at a local pizza restaurant while appearing to be intoxicated.
Manning also said Staniszewski’s appearing intoxicated became an issue “during at least one council meeting and at least one agenda meeting.”
“That’s why we thought it was important to take this next step,” Manning said.