Monessen council has conducted meetings for more than one year without its mayor and one of its council members.
After months of complaints and failed attempts to remove them, the remaining council members are trying another route.
During a special meeting Thursday, council unanimously passed a motion to ask state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck to file a quo warranto petition to remove Mayor Matt Shorraw and Councilman Gil Coles.
“We are taking this action because two people who were duly elected aren’t showing up and doing their job,” said Deputy Mayor and Councilman Tony Orzechowski. “And that’s making it hard for the council to keep up with the workload. Our lives have been so upended that it’s difficult to take vacations. But above all, it’s the residents of Monessen who should be furious about these no-shows.”
A quo warranto motion essentially challenges a public official’s right to hold office. It must be filed by either the state attorney general or the district attorney in the county where the municipality is located, according to Pennsylvania Code.
Such actions would be brought in common pleas court, with a judge making the ultimate decision.
Shorraw has missed meetings for 16 months, while Coles has attended only one meeting since February 2018. Both men were sworn into office in January 2018.
In May 2018, council issued a no-confidence proclamation against Shorraw, asking Gov. Tom Wolf to remove the mayor from office. Members of council sent a follow-up letter to Wolf last December. Legislation was also proposed that would amend the state Constitution so that no-show elected public officials could be removed from office.
While it passed the state House in June, there has been no action on the proposal in the state Senate. Even if it were to pass the Senate, it would have to pass through both bodies in two consecutive sessions. Then, voters would have to approve the amendment.
Last March, council adopted an ordinance providing for the assessment of reasonable fines for absences at regular or special meetings of Monessen’s council.
City Solicitor Joseph Dalfonso said the city does not have legal grounds to file the quo warranto petition for removal on its own, and must rely on the support of Peck or Shapiro to do it.
“This is a rare action, and this is something that’s not in the hands of the council,” said Dalfonso.
Councilman Lois Thomas expressed frustration with the continued absence of Shorraw and Coles.
“I don’t think I would have a job if I didn’t show up for work – even for just one week,” she said. “We have a job to do, and these absences are putting an extra workload on Tony, David and me.”
Added Councilman David Feehan, “There’s no excuse for not doing your job. I’ve been hearing from people who didn’t vote for Matt and people who did vote for Matt, and they are all disgusted.”
On Friday, Shorraw said the petition is “inappropriate in this situation.” He reiterated that he would return to meetings after certain, unspecified actions are investigated. Shorraw said he has handed over “plenty of evidence of improprieties and potential felonies” to federal authorities.
Both Shorraw and Coles have two more years left to serve in their terms.
In other business, council:
- Voted to hire Alan Hritz, James Stoken, Dominic Faieta and Rebekah Shrader from the Certified Civil Service list as full-time police officers, contingent on passing all necessary clearances and processing of paperwork. All four officers were previously employed by the Monessen Police Department on a part-time basis.
- Approved placing of the city’s employee health insurance lines of coverage with Engle-Hambright & Davies Inc., effective Oct. 1, 2019, and authorized the deputy mayor and city administrator to complete all required documentation.
- Authorized WEC Engineers Inc. to obtain quotes for emergency repairs for stormwater inlets on Monongahela Street and Third Street.
- Authorized the city administrator to advertise for a rescheduled demolition public hearing, as required for the CDBG program.
Council next meets Thursday for its regular workshop meeting.