Monessen solicitor out; meeting wild
Shouting, profanity and a call to city police fueled an emotionally charged Monessen City council meeting Wednesday.
And that represented just the first four minutes of the nearly two-hour meeting.
The tension-filled business meeting began with Mayor Lou Mavrakis announcing that solicitor Al Gaudio had been “relieved of his duties.”
Pressed by residents for details, Councilwoman Lucille D'Alfonso said it was a personnel issue.
That sparked a shouting match among several residents and council members.
“Who's trying to get control of this place?” resident John Pokomo yelled.
Resident Ernie Telegraphis screamed council “has no brains.”
“Your whole package is falling apart. You guys think you're privileged; that's your problem. You're supposed to side with the City of Monessen,” Telegraphis said.
“Why don't you pay the rent you owe, deadbeat?” the mayor shouted back.
In February, council sent an eviction notice to Telegraphis, owner of the Mon Net Café, reportedly because of unpaid rent at the city's Eastgate 11 building.
That began a back-and-forth debate about the rent between Telegraphis and Councilman Josh Retos.
As Telegraphis left, the mayor called in police to stand watch over the meeting.
D'Alfonso said after the meeting that Gaudio attended an executive session prior to Monday's meeting and left soon after.
“He is going to submit his letter of resignation,” D'Alfonso said.
Reached at home Monday night, Gaudio said he was resigning for personal reasons.
A former city solicitor, Gaudio was hired after Mavrakis took office in January. Gaudio received an $18,000 retainer. His legal fee was $95 per hour, and his court fee was $150 per hour.
In addition to a solicitor, council will also be seeking a new code enforcement officer as Donald “Buzzy” Byron submitted a resignation letter.
Byron was hired in February as a full-time code enforcement officer at an annual salary of $40,000.
D'Alfonso said Byron “resigned under fire.”
“He said he had to resign or be fired. The letter that he wrote was an insult to everyone except for you,” D'Alfonso told Mavrakis. “The public needs to know he resigned because of disappointments we had with his job performance.”
Mavrakis commended Byron, saying he saved the city “thousands of dollars” by making repairs and performing other work.
“He was supposed to be doing code work on city time, not the work the street crew is supposed to do,” D'Alfonso said.
Former code enforcement officer Mark Santocolombo said Byron “got involved in stuff he shouldn't be doing.”
“When I did the job I had the license, and nobody was going to tell me how to do my job because the license was in my name,” Santocolombo said.
Councilwoman Patricia Bukowski, D'Alfonso, and Retos voted to advertise for a part-time code enforcement officer and eliminate the position of administrative clerk in that office.
Mavrakis and Councilman John Nestor voted against both measures.
Once more, Mavrakis launched an attack on members of the previous administration, including Retos, D'Alfonso and former city administrator John Harhai.
Mavrakis said he can't find records of payments to the Kaplan Stewart law firm. “I've searched the files and can't find one shred of (documentation) why we paid this individual $94,467.87,” Mavrakis said.
Retos said the firm was hired as special counsel to handle a litigation issue at the request of former solicitor Mark Shire.
The mayor claimed Harhai erased those documents and other files from his former office computer.
That sparked another heated debate.
“John (Harhai) didn't know enough about erasing files. Someone else got in there, and I can guess who. And I know it wasn't John. But, I'm not going to be guilty of slander like other people here,” D'Alfonso said.
The mayor said he is going to keep digging into the actions of the previous council.
“The people of Monessen have a right to know why we are so far in debt. Every month, I'm going to give you a tidbit of why we're in the mess we're in today,” the mayor said.
Retos told Mavrakis to stop “living in the past.”
“You sit here and preach about what the problems are in this city, but you haven't made one suggestion on how to improve anything,” Retos said. “You live in the past. What have you done for six months other than sit back with your feet up and have one of our employees spend hours and hours looking up stuff?”
Mavrakis said he has “uncovered a scam.”
D'Alfonso said council has been trying to move the city forward.
“You said you were going to save the city. All you have done is talk about what we've done wrong. And you have yet to do anything or tell us your direction. You have no vision,” D'Alfonso shouted.
“You know what the problem is? If you have a woman interrupt you, you can't say nothing,” Mavrakis replied.
Retos claimed the mayor “has no plan.”
“Your plan for the first year is to complain what the past administration did and then complain the second year that the current administration won't work with you,” Retos said. “So, you have a built-in excuse that you don't have to do anything.”
The arguing continued during the public comment period.
Resident Anthony Orzechowski asked council what happened to the “united front” it pledged earlier this year.
“What the hell happened? The people of Monessen deserve better than this,” he said.
Resident Stanley Kershaw asked the mayor what his plans are for the dilapidated former mini-mall downtown. Kershaw said he had plans to renovate it, but the mayor asked him to sell it back to the city.
Mavrakis said he has reached out to corporate leaders to show some “goodwill” to raise money to raze the former Health-Mart and mini-mall buildings.
“I am working. I am in my office every day answering the phone. Ask my wife,” the mayor said.
Mavrakis told his wife, Glenda, to “get up.”
Glenda Mavrakis made a passionate plea for council to work together.
“I'm really upset. This is so nasty and ugly. Stop it,” she said. “We have to work together and pull together.”
In other business:
• Council hired Luke Doptis and Eddie Bell as part-time summer street department employees at $9.50 per hour.
• Council approved a contract for E.J. Burns Construction Inc. to pave a section of the Ninth Street Roadway Restoration Project using $11,600 in sewage line usage fee money. The company will also complete repairs to Dover Street for $9,900. The money will come from $20,492 the city received from Act 13 Marcellus shale impact fees.
• Bukowski will apply for a $100,000 grant through the Greenways Trails and Recreation Program to repair the City Park and Ninth Street Park walking tracks. If approved, the grant requires a $15,000 city match, which Bukowski said would come from private funding.
• Bukowski said the dedication of the Brown Street Clock is set for 11 a.m. July 26. A local repairman has been called to get the clock working.
• Council approved a $96,737.85 payment to Maccabee Industrial Inc. for the City Park Amphitheater Improvements Project. Bukowski said a DooWop Concert will be staged there 6 to 9 p.m. July 25. The fee to rent the amphitheater is $200. Renters will get a $100 refund if it's left in good condition.
• Council hired Anthony Cancilla and Alyssa Brown as part-time police officers. They will be paid $14.50 per hour by the Westmoreland County Housing Authority.
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.