Monessen mayor’s absence prompts call for law change to boot AWOL elected officials
The prolonged absence of Monessen Mayor Matt Shorraw has prompted a proposal to change the Pennsylvania constitution to allow the removal of elected municipal officials for lack of attendance at public meetings.
“For more than a year, the Monessen mayor has not attended city council meetings. Local government cannot operate efficiently and properly if those entrusted with representing the people are no shows at regularly scheduled public meetings,” said state Rep. Justin Walsh, a Rostraver Republican.
The 58th District that Walsh represents includes Monessen.
Shorraw, a Democrat, was elected in November 2017. He last attended a council meeting in early 2018.
Council cited Shorraw’s absences in appointing Anthony Orzechowski as acting mayor.
Walsh said House Bill 1444 would permit the removal of a member of a municipal governing body for failure to attend more than 50 percent of the scheduled meetings in a calendar year. The remaining members of the board would then request the municipal solicitor to begin proceedings to vacate the office.
Walsh said a constitutional amendment would have to pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions before going to the voters for approval.
Shorraw defended his continued absence and claimed Walsh would be better served focusing his efforts elsewhere.
“If Walsh is attempting to do good by the taxpayers in his district, I think it would better serve Walsh to actually do something to combat the public corruption and white collar crime that Councilman Gil Coles and I are protesting, and which has dominated Monessen for decades. It is important to remember that there is still an active investigation going on, and that there are things that have been proven, and others that will hopefully be investigated and proven soon,” Shorraw said via email. “I think (Walsh) is on the wrong side of history, and I hope he’ll strive to do better to curb public corruption in the future.”
Councilman David Feehan disagreed with Shorraw.
“This has been a long time coming. I’m very happy this situation is finally being taken seriously by somebody,” Feehan said. “My hope is that this will pass. I certainly realize it may not happen fast enough to assist us in our situation, but it will assist other municipalities in the future.”
Feehan, also a Democrat, said conducting municipal business has been difficult with the absences. A council vacancy last year led to two members attending meetings.
“We would actually have meetings and just stare at each other because we didn’t have enough voting members,” Feehan said.
He noted last year, the court appointed Lois Thomas to fill a council vacancy, “but it’s still been difficult with just three of us showing up.”
“We have to schedule our lives around city business to make sure we have a quorum,” Feehan said.
In a post on social media April 26, Shorraw claimed it is “unfair” to assume he is not aware of the city’s municipal activities because of his absences at meetings and criticized the majority of council and the city solicitor, Dodaro Matta & Cambest of Pittsburgh.
“It is unfair to assume just because I have chosen to stay away from what I feel to be continuously corrupt practice of this council and law firm that I am unaware of what has been going on despite council and city clerk keeping both Councilman Coles and I uninformed in most instances,” Shorraw wrote on Twitter.
Coles also has not attended a council meeting in more than a year.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .