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Seat on Washington Township Municipal Authority in limbo

| Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, 12:46 a.m.

A seat on the Washington Township Municipal Authority appears in limbo.

The new board of supervisors on Monday voted to reverse previous actions that saw Jamie Miller appoint herself to the authority while she was a sitting township supervisor in November, and again in December.

Since then, Dan Moody — who defeated Miller in the primary election and ran unopposed in the general election — has taken over Miller's position as supervisor.

He and new chairman Chuck Yusko voted Monday to overturn Miller's previous appointment by a 2-1 vote. Supervisor Arnie Dull opposed the action.

Miller did not return several phone messages left Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment.

Miller's husband, Kyle, indicated he thought Monday's action by the board was “illegal,” but referred further questions to his wife.

Moody maintained that Monday's vote was a simply “a corrective action” and in the best interests of the township.

“It's a slippery slope as an elected official to appoint yourself to other commissions and authorities,” Moody said. “I'm not saying it's illegal. I'm saying there are very specific rules … and specific actions that have to be taken.

“We truly think it was our obligation to correct those procedural errors.”

In November, the supervisors appointed Miller by a 2-0 vote to replace Gary Verkleeren on the authority as a paid member. Dull and Miller voted in favor of the appointment while Yusko abstained.

The move drew groans and protests from township residents gathered at the meeting and spurred questions as to why six other applicants were not interviewed. Dull repeatedly insisted Miller was the most qualified candidate.

Attempts to reach Dull for comment on Wednesday and Thursday were unsuccessful.

At December's meeting, the same board rescinded the November motion and reappointed Miller to the authority as a non-paid member by the same 2-0 vote.

“In December, Arnie had to rescind that motion because they appointed her with pay and she was not allowed to be appointed with pay,” Moody said. “Why can they rescind the motion last month and it's OK, but when we rescind the motion, it's not?”

After the November meeting, when questions arose over the legitimacy of Miller appointing herself, township solicitor Don McCue said Miller's action was perfectly legal.

One legal precedent involving a similar situation occurred in 1988 in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

James Koslow, an elected commissioner of Robinson Township, argued an order by the State Ethics Commission after it concluded that Koslow used his office as a township commissioner in violation of the State Ethics Act “to obtain financial gain other than compensation provided by law.”

This came after Koslow cast the deciding vote to appoint himself to the township's municipal authority at a monthly compensation of $70.

Although nothing in state law forbids a township commissioner from serving on an authority, the court ruled that, by casting the controlling vote in favor of his appointment, Koslow's vote was illegal and void and could not be counted.

By discounting Koslow's vote, the board's vote ended in a 2-2 deadlock and Koslow's appointment to the municipal authority was not supported by the majority of the board and therefore failed, the court determined.

It is unclear, however, if this legal decision could apply to Miller.

On Monday, the new board decided to not retain McCue as solicitor and hired Attorney Shane Gannon of Connellsville. Moody and Yusko approved Gannon's hiring with Dull in opposition.

Yusko said he abstained from the first two votes out of courtesy to Miller, but decided he had to cast the swing vote on Monday.

“I don't think (the previous appointments) were done right and I just don't think she's the right person for the authority,” Yusko said Thursday night, while out working on several water main breaks throughout the township.

Moody said the board of supervisors will advertise the authority board's opening and that Miller is welcome to apply.

“This wasn't personal,” Moody said. “We encouraged her to reapply. We just wanted to do this the right way.”

The municipal authority will hold its annual reorganizational meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Yusko said he anticipates that Miller will show up at the meeting, but was uncertain whether she will attempt to do so as part of the authority.

After her initial appointment to the authority, Miller did not attend the authority's Nov. 26 meeting.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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