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Valley News Dispatch

Arnold Council's request for governor to remove mayor appears unlikely

Madasyn Czebiniak
| Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 8:21 p.m.
Protestors calling for the resignation of Arnold Mayor Karen Peconi demonstrated outside before the city council meeting Tuesday evening.
Protestors calling for the resignation of Arnold Mayor Karen Peconi demonstrated outside before the city council meeting Tuesday evening.

Arnold Council voted 4-0 Tuesday to send a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Senate asking them to remove embattled Mayor Karen Peconi from office after she refused to resign in the wake of a social media comment that she posted that critics deemed to be racist and insensitive.

But the chance of that happening appears to be slim, according to Arnold’s solicitor. The state constitution outlines three ways that an elected official can be removed from office. The one that Arnold Council is considering is removal by the governor for “reasonable cause” after two-thirds of the state Senate votes for it.

Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and the Senate Republican caucus, said there have been only three instances in state history when the Senate has voted on such a matter.

Only one was approved — and that was in 1887.

“It was the removal of a sheriff from Philadelphia,” she said.

Kocher couldn’t say how many times people have reached out to the Senate about removal of an elected official.

Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said the governor is aware of Peconi’s comments and “finds them unbecoming of any elected official.”

Solicitor ‘not optimistic’

Arnold Solicitor David Regoli, whom council tasked with penning the letter, said he will write it but he doubts that state officials will act because there may not be legal grounds.

“I’m not optimistic that the Senate or the governor will act upon it,” he said. “I’m not optimistic at all, but … I will prepare that letter in accordance with their wishes.”

While Peconi’s comments may have been hurtful, they’re still protected under the First Amendment, Regoli said, and exercising that right is not a crime.

“The issue is: Is exercising your right to free speech, no matter how ugly (it is), is that reasonable cause for impeachment?” Regoli said. “I don’t know that there are any cases out there where this situation has occurred.”

The mayor has been under fire since posting a video to her Facebook account that showed protesters in an earlier incident being knocked down by powerful water cannons and commenting that the same approach should be used on people protesting the fatal June 19 police shooting of Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh.

She also said on Facebook that protesters must be unemployed because they were able to demonstrate at 7 a.m. on a weekday.

At council’s meeting Tuesday, Peconi said she has no intention of resigning even though residents, activists and her fellow council members have called for her to do so.

She apologized for her actions by reading from a prepared statement and said she will “continue to work hard to improve the city of Arnold.”

Attempts to reach her for further comment Wednesday were unsuccessful. Prior attempts since the incident to reach her at her office, by phone or email or at her house over numerous days also were unsuccessful.

Move inspired by 2016 incident

Councilman Philip McKinley suggested sending the letter to state officials. He was joined by council members Joseph Bia, Deborah Vernon and Anthony “Butch” Sgalio in approving the measure. Peconi abstained.

McKinley said the move was inspired by a 2016 incident in which the former mayor of West York, York County, posted racist Facebook posts, including threatening ones aimed at former President Barack Obama.

According to PennLIVE, Wolf urged Mayor Charles Wasko to resign immediately. He said he would support the Senate if lawmakers chose to remove Wasko from office.

Instead, West York Council voted to censure Wasko, who resigned a few weeks after his comments went viral and attracted international attention.

Attempts to reach Wasko by phone were unsuccessful. A phone number listed for him rang several times but did not transfer to voicemail.

Regoli said he will include in the letter “everything (he has) to support the council’s directive,” such as Peconi’s Facebook comment on the water cannons as well as additional posts the mayor made referencing anti-Muslim sentiments and attacks on Obama’s nationality and religion.

Regoli said he will inform council about other actions it can take, such as asking Peconi to resign via censureship.

However, the mayor doesn’t have to agree to that.

“She was censured (Tuesday) night by the public,” Regoli said. “Fifty, sixty people spoke, and just about 90 percent of them asked her to resign, and she said no. And that’s her right.”

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, mczebiniak@tribweb.com or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.

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