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Valley News Dispatch

Letter asking for Arnold mayor's removal sent to the state Senate

Madasyn Czebiniak
| Monday, July 16, 2018, 6:51 p.m.
Karen Peconi-Biricocchi
Courtesy of Karen Peconi-Biricocchi
Karen Peconi-Biricocchi

A letter from Arnold city council to state Senators, asking them to remove embattled Mayor Karen Peconi from office, was mailed on Saturday.

The letter asks the state Senate to step into the case because Peconi has refused to resign from office in the wake of a controversial Facebook post she shared that critics deemed to be racist and insensitive.

Arnold’s solicitor said the chances of the Senate actually acting on the request are slim. He was joined in that sentiment by Councilman Joseph Bia, who said on Monday that he doesn’t think the letter will do anything, but voted for it because he wanted to send Peconi a message.

“I think she’s an idiot,” Bia said. “I think she’s a total idiot and she needs to resign, but you can’t force her to.”

Public pressure has been mounting for Peconi to step down since she made social media posts disparaging people protesting the fatal June 19 police shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh.

A video the mayor shared on her Facebook page portrays water cannons being used to disperse protesters elsewhere. Some are violently knocked to the ground.

“We need one of these for tomorrow,” Peconi wrote in a comment beneath the video.

Later, she wrote, “bring the hoses” and said of protesters, “None of them work. That’s how they can do this at 7 a.m. … Very sad.”

At council’s meeting last week, 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.”

Councilman Philip McKinley suggested sending the letter to state officials, and was joined by Bia, Deborah Vernon and Anthony “Butch” Sgalio in approving the measure. Peconi abstained from the 4-0 vote.

Solicitor David Regoli on Monday said the letter was sent after he met individually with everyone on council and they approved the language and signed it.

In it, council members said they understand that Peconi has the right to free speech under the First Amendment, but they believe her remarks crossed a line and she can no longer be an effective mayor.

“We believe that the citizens of the City of Arnold have the right to have complete confidence in their local elected officials and that they will govern without regard to race, gender, or sexual orientation,” the letter reads, in part. “As a result of her comments, the Mayor has lost the confidence of the citizens to lead this city in any meaningful manner.”

The letter is signed by the four council members who approved it, and includes a picture of the video Peconi posted to her Facebook account and the comments she made about protesters. It also includes other racially discriminatory posts Peconi shared on her page.

Regoli previously said he had doubts that state officials will act because there may not be legal grounds to remove Peconi, and reaffirmed that on Monday.

There have been only three instances in state history when the Senate has voted on such a matter. Only one was approved — the removal of Philadelphia County High Sheriff William Ellwood Rowan in 1887.

“I seriously doubt it will proceed very far,” Regoli said. “I did what council directed me to do.”

McKinley, who made the motion to send the letter, said the decision is in the Senate’s hands now.

”We’re hoping that they take a really good look at this,” he said.

Bia said he is still extremely upset by the situation, and doesn’t think he can continue to work with Peconi.

“What’s that going to do for Arnold business?” he said.

Attempts to reach Peconi for comment weren’t successful Monday.

Last week, when asked about Peconi’s situation, Gov. Tom Wolf called her comments “unacceptable” but said her fate rests with the state Senate, which would have to vote for her removal with a two-thirds majority.

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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