Monessen’s missing mayor says he hasn’t abandoned his city
It’s been a year since Monessen’s mayor last took a seat at the dais, leaving some residents of the Mon Valley city frustrated and prompting a state lawmaker to propose changing the Pennsylvania constitution to allow absentee elected municipal officials to be removed.
Elected in 2017 for a term that runs through 2022, Matthew Shorraw, a Democrat, has not attended a council meeting since last May, said city Solicitor Joseph Dalfonso. Although council has appointed Anthony Orzechowski to act as mayor due to the prolonged absence, Shorraw still receives $4,800 a year, before taxes, which he said he donates to the Westmoreland Community Foundation.
According to Phil Koch, executive director of the foundation, Shorraw started a charitable fund that will eventually go back to Monessen. Shorraw currently donates his paychecks to the fund, Koch confirmed, with the foundation overseeing any donations that are made.
But his absence along with that of Councilman Gil Coles has left officials scrambling, said Councilman David Feehan. At one point, only two sitting members — too few to take a vote — attended 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 whose 58th District includes Monessen.
Walsh last week introduced a bill that, if passed into law, would permit the removal of a member of a municipal governing body who misses more than half of meetings scheduled in a calendar year. Under the proposal, remaining board members would have to request the municipal solicitor begin proceedings to vacate the office.
A constitutional amendment would have to pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions before going to voters for approval.
But for Shorraw, his actions are based off alleged pension fraud and other issues he has with the local government.
“I want no parts of it, and Councilman Coles feels the same way,” he said. “So, as of right now, there’s still an open investigation” into pension fraud.
Coles also has not attended a council meeting in more than a year. With two meetings per month, a work session and a voting meeting, Coles has missed about 30 meetings. Shorraw has missed about 24, not including any additional meetings.
Shorraw said he has not resigned as mayor because he still wants to make changes to the city by cleaning up local government and moving forward with projects that will benefit residents. But attending meetings is like “wasting my breath,” he said.
“For Monessen to succeed in the long term, the corruption needs to be cleaned up and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Shorraw said. “Because if we keep abandoning all this stuff, the city’s going to be as bad as it is now. We’ve had corruption for decades and it’s killing the city slowly.”
Hoping to represent the city in the long run, Shorraw said he is able to access documents that he is sending to the state for an ongoing investigation into pension fraud, despite threats of impeachment.
Feehan and Orzechowski said they have reached out the Gov. Tom Wolf to see if impeachment was an option. According to the councilmen, Wolf recently replied that the process would have to go through the state Senate before he became involved.
Elected officials can be impeached for different reasons, including misbehavior, misfeasance or misdemeanor in office, said J.J. Abbott, the governor’s press secretary. Elected officials can also be removed from office without being convicted or charged with a crime, he said. This means if an official was acquitted from crimes in a trial, they can still be impeached.
Each time, however, the legislature must act first, meaning the House passes a resolution followed by a trial held by the Senate. After that, it goes on to the governor for consideration.
“(Shorraw) is a cancer to this city and should be removed from his position,” Feehan said.
Conducting municipal business has been difficult with the absences, said Feehan, also a Democrat.
“We would actually have meetings and just have stare at each other because we didn’t have enough voting members,” Feehan said, adding they eventually opened the sessions to public comment.
Last year, the county’s Common Pleas Court appointed Lois Thomas to fill the council vacancy, “but it’s still been difficult with just three of us showing up,” Feehan said.
For residents Louise and Milt Anderson, the situation is tragic.
“I’ve heard nothing but accolades for (Shorraw) as a person,” Louise Anderson said. “That’s why I find this even more confusing and disappointing.”
Resident Mike Kelly, 61, referred to the situation as a standoff, saying he agreed with Shorraw. The council has had issues for years, he said.
Some, like Charisse Basset, 32, said she doesn’t pay attention to local government and did not know about the situation.
“I think a lot of people are confused,” Shorraw said. “I don’t think they understand what’s going on and why I’m doing what I’m doing and why Councilman Coles is doing what he’s doing. I think they think I’ve walked away and that’s just not true.”
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .