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Social worker appointed to Monessen City Council

August 8, 2018

Monessen City Council has a full complement of five members for its next meeting, but just how many attend is yet to be determined.

Westmoreland County’s 10 Common Pleas judges on Thursday appointed social worker Lois Thomas to fill the seat left vacant by the May death of Ron Chiaravalle.

Thomas, 56, was selected from a field of nine candidates that included Chiaravalle’s daughter and his great nephew along with former mayor and state Rep. Ted Harhai.

“I don’t want to be part of the mess. I want to be part of cleaning up the mess,” Thomas said.

Thomas is a medicare counselor with the Southwest Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging based in Charleroi. She said she wants city leaders to focus on cleaning up litter and blight.

Born and raised in Monessen, Thomas told the judges she struggles when she sees what her city has become.

“I walk around the city every week. When I see the litter and I see the blight, my heart bleeds when I walk,” Thomas said.

Monessen has about 7,700 residents and sits along the Monongahela River in the southern part of Westmoreland County. Municipal government operations have been at a standstill for most of the year as disagreements raged between council and newly elected Mayor Matthew Shorraw.

Shorraw, a Democrat, took office in January after defeating incumbent Lou Mavrakis in the spring primary. Mavrakis waged an unsuccessful write-in campaign in November’s general election.

Disputes between council and mayor has left the city without a functioning council.

Council has not been in a regular session since April, according to city solicitor Joseph R. Dalfonso. Shorraw, who is a voting member of the council, has been a no-show at regularly scheduled meetings since then. Councilman Gil Coles has not appeared at a regularly scheduled meeting since February.

Earlier this year, council gave Shorraw a no-confidence vote and asked that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf remove him from office.

Shorraw has contended he was threatened by Councilman Anthony Orzechowski, a situation that is being investigated by the county’s district attorney’s office.

Meanwhile, Coles and Shorraw participated in an emergency council meeting in early July to approve a new insurance contract for the city to prevent a shutdown of government.

But, with their continued absence throughout much of the year, coupled with Chiaravalle’s death in late May, city business has piled up, according to Councilman David Feehan, who was appointed to the body in February.

“I just want a quorum. I just want to do business, Feehan said. “We can’t pay our contractors who are doing work. We can’t pass ordinances and we can’t fight blight.”

Dalfonso said Thomas, a Democrat, is expected to be sworn in at council’s next meeting on Aug. 9.

Her term will run through the end of 2019, when Thomas said she expects to run for a full four-year term.

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