Residency issue in Donora mayoral race
John Lunt is staging a write-in campaign to become Donora mayor, but does he actually live there?
There is some evidence Lunt resides in the borough, but there are indications he lives in Vanderbilt, Fayette County.
The issue is central to Tuesday's election because state law requires candidates for municipal office to reside in the municipality where the position is sought for one year prior to election.
That means the Lunt must have established residency in Donora by Nov. 5, 2012, to be eligible for election as mayor on Tuesday.
Lunt showed The Valley Independent a copy of his Pennsylvania's driver's license, which was issued Nov. 8, 2011, and listed his address as 801 Meldon Ave., Donora.
In addition, a check with the Washington County Elections Bureau showed that he voted in the county, where Donora is located, in last year's general election.
While his driver's license and voting record normally would make moot questions about Lunt's residency, there are other factors at play.
For instance, Lunt's address was listed as 193 Virgin Run Road in Vanderbilt on official documents on two occasions in which he was cited for criminal activity during the past 12 months. (He was found not guilty of both charges.)
And records at the Fayette County Tax Assessment Bureau show that John and Kathryn Lunt earlier this year filed under the state Homeowner and Tax Relief Act to have real estate taxes reduced on the property they own at 193 Virgin Run Road in Vanderbilt.
According to the state Department of Community and Economic Development, properties that receive tax relief under the act are “primarily used as the domicile of an owner who is a natural person.”
Larry Spahr, director of elections for Washington County, said his office does not investigate residency questions, explaining that is an issue for the court system.
He said that if the court decertifies a borough election result because it determines a candidate does not meet the residency requirement, it would be up to borough council to fill the vacancy.
Lunt acknowledges that he lived in Donora before moving to Vanderbilt several years ago, but said he moved back to Donora on Nov. 15, 2011.
According to Washington County tax records, Lunt filed a change of residency in February 2008, indicating he was moving from 801 Meldon Ave., Donora, to 193 Virginia Run Road, Vanderbilt.
Elections records show Lunt voted in Washington County in 2005 and 2006. But in the 2008 general election, he voted in Fayette County and did so again in the fall of 2010.
He applied for a status change with the Washington County Elections Bureau on Jan. 18, 2012, and voted in Washington County on Nov. 6, 2012 - the first time he did so in that county in six years.
According to the Fayette County Tax Assessment office, Lunt owns two properties in Fayette County – at 193 Virgin Run Road in Vanderbilt and one acre on Johnson Hollow Road in Washington Township. His tax bills are mailed to 193 Virgin Run Road, Vanderbilt.
Lunt continues to pay real estate taxes on the Donora property, which is listed as a commercial property. It once housed the former Service Rent All, a business Lunt co-owned.
He said he now rents the first floor of Meldon Avenue property to Trees R Us, and he resides in a second-floor apartment there.
Lunt acknowledged having other properties in Vanderbilt and West Virginia.
“I receive a lot of mail at my wife's primary residence in Vanderbilt,” Lunt said. “But my primary residence is in Donora.”
But when Lunt was charged with driving with an unregistered vehicle in Speers on Nov. 29, 2012, the nontraffic citation listed his home as 193 Virgin Run Road, Vanderbilt.
A Charleroi Regional Police Department spokesman said Lunt showed officers a driver's license with the Vanderbilt address when he was cited. He eventually was found not guilty.
Likewise, when Lunt was charged with harassment on May 15, documents again listed Vanderbilt as his address.
Records filed in the Smock office of Magisterial District Judge Dwight Shaner identify Lunt's home address as 193 Virgin Run Road in Vanderbilt.
State Trooper Christopher Klacik, who filed the charge, told The Valley Independent, “I asked him, ‘What's your address?' and he said, ‘193 Virgin Run Road, Vanderbilt.'”
Lunt ultimately was found not guilty of the harassment charge.
Lunt is not new to the court system.
According to court records, he was charged with burglary, theft by unlawful taking and criminal conspiracy to commit burglary in connection with an incident Nov. 1, 1990, in Charleroi.
Lunt, John Charles “Pekoe” Kenney and Raymond Dewaine Arnold broke into the Montgomery Ward store in Charleroi at 1:12 a.m. on that date, stealing six compact disc players, according to the court documents.
Facing a criminal trial on Jan. 13, 1992, Lunt entered a guilty plea on the burglary charge, while the other two charges were dismissed.
He was paroled July 16, 1992.
Lunt's accomplice in the burglary, Kenney, was a car thief who managed to elude police before the FBI arrested him inside a bar in Minneapolis on Nov. 5, 1991.
Wanted for nearly a dozen bank robberies in three states, he had escaped from a detention center in Greensburg in December 1990.
The target of Lunt's write-in campaign, long-time Donora Mayor John Lignelli, also has a criminal record.
Lignelli has acknowledged previously that he pleaded guilty in 1974 to a federal charge of gambling for numbers writing. He was placed on probation.
During the time he was on probation, Lignelli was appointed to borough council. He served as a councilman for several years and is now seeking his sixth term as mayor.
Spahr said no one, to the best of his knowledge, has ever legally questioned Lignelli's eligibility to hold public office.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.