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Lewd text to officials stirs unease in Elizabeth Township

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 4:47 a.m.

Elizabeth Township commissioners say they will contact outside investigating agencies about a lewd text message commission president Gene Francesconi allegedly sent to a township employee.

The message in question, which was forwarded to media outlets Tuesday by an anonymous tipster, contains a photo of six nude black women as well as racist remarks.

Francesconi said he couldn't respond to the allegation that he sent the text, saying it was a “personnel issue.”

“I can't comment on any sort of personnel issue,” said Francesconi, who would not confirm or deny his involvement with the matter. “I don't know what to tell you.”

According to the anonymous source, Francesconi reportedly sent a message from his cell phone to several people, including township public works manager Steve Raczkowski, who declined to comment.

The text message was discussed at a regular commissioners meeting Tuesday night.

Commissioner Donald Similo proposed a motion that the board forward the offending message to proper investigating agencies to determine “whether legal or ethical violations have occurred.” In particular, Similo said the state Ethics Commission and Attorney General's office and the Allegheny County District Attorney's office should be notified.

The board approved the measure unanimously.

Township solicitor Patricia McGrail confirmed that the offending text had been brought to the attention of the township manager after the employee who received it filed a complaint.

McGrail said the text originally was sent in March, and she assumed the matter was resolved between the two parties because there had been no further complaints.

McGrail said the allegation is considered a personnel issue because of the employee's involvement. She also said the text was a private communication between the two individuals and had no connection to official township business.

Action to forward the matter to outside agencies came after two township residents complained during a public comment portion of the meeting.

“The township residents are owed an explanation of what happened,” said Emil Burak, who noted that members of Congress have resigned from their positions for similar reasons.

Resident Lori Wilson said the issue “needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed now.”

Township manager Aaron Sukenik said the township has personnel policies that are relevant to the accusation, and the township is taking the accusations seriously.

Elizabeth Township police Chief Robert McNeilly said no one has filed a police report about the incident.

“If the victim comes forward and files a complaint, we will investigate,” McNeilly said. “But nobody's filed a complaint.”

Francesconi was elected to the board of commissioners last November and was named board president in January. He is a 1983 graduate of Elizabeth Forward High School, an Air Force veteran and a former township police officer.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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