Scranton Council Fields Residents’ What-if Questions On Mayor Resignation Process
SCRANTON — City council fielded residents’ “what if” questions Monday on who would get the city’s top job if Mayor Bill Court-right were to resign.
On Sunday, Courtright denied rumors he’s planning to leave office in the wake of FBI raids last week at City Hall and his home. At council’s meeting, however, the raids of last Wednesday and the numerous rumors that arose since then were main topics of discussion.
Council held an executive session before the regular meeting on a personnel matter, council President Pat Rogan announced at the start of the council meeting to comply with the Sunshine Law.
Calling the FBI investigation “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” resident Joan Hodowanitz asked, “In the event the mayor was to resign, tell me who becomes the next acting mayor. Is it you, Mr. Rogan?”
Rogan cited the city’s Home Rule Charter, which says a vacancy in the office of mayor could occur in several ways, one of which is via resignation. If a vacancy does occur, the council president becomes acting mayor for up to 30 days, and council may appoint a successor within that time frame to fill out the balance of the unexpired mayoral term, according to the administrative code. If the
council does not, or cannot because of a tie vote, choose a new mayor, then the Court of Common Pleas would select a mayor, the administrative code says.
Another provision of the administrative code dealing with temporary mayoral vacancies, such as from an illness, says the deputy mayor would serve as mayor. The current deputy mayor is city solicitor Jessica Eskra.
Resident Fay Franus asked whether state law would trump city rules on a mayoral resignation and trigger a special election.
“We’re reviewing it now,” Councilman Wayne Evans replied.
Council members cautioned the public against jumping to conclusions or speculation. Each council member reiterated his surprise and shock that the raids occurred, and that they do not know what the matter is about.
Council solicitor Amil Minora explained that typically council would send a letter to the mayor seeking information on a subject, and then hope for a response. Council plans to send such a letter soon. Councilman Tim Perry asked that council also send a letter to the FBI asking for at least a time frame and scope of the investigation.
A larger crowd than usually attends council meetings turned out Monday. Residents weighed in.
“With the mayor, I don’t think there should be a rush to judgment,” Bob Bolus said. “There’s a lot of rumors, a lot of things going on. Whatever it is, it’ll come out when it’s supposed to come out.”
Bolus asked whether any council member, either individually or jointly, has anything to do with the FBI matter.
“I think I could speak for us as a group because we did discuss this prior — the answer is no,” Rogan said.
John Foley issued a general plea to the public at large, that if anyone knows of any illegality in city government to “do the right thing” and contact the FBI.
Lee Morgan, a frequent critic of the mayor and council, said the FBI matter should not come as a surprise.
Bill Jackowitz said, “I’ve been waiting about 15 years for the FBI to finally get here and they finally did get here.”
Franus also asked if any council members had spoken with Courtright since the raids. Earlier in the meeting, Rogan said he met with the mayor Monday about routine city business, but the FBI matter did not come up. Evans, Perry, Kyle Donahue and Bill Gaughan said they have not spoken with Courtright.
Wednesday’s raids came two days after council introduced an ordinance to create a stronger city code of ethics. The proposal calls for limits on campaign finance contributions that elected officials can accept, and a reconstituted ethics board to oversee the new rules, among many other requirements.
On Monday, council voted 5-0 to advance on second reading the proposed ethics code.
Council won’t meet Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. The ethics code proposal will come up for a third vote on adoption at council’s next meeting Jan. 28 at City Hall at 6 p.m.
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Scranton council comments on FBI raids on Jan. 9 at City Hall and Mayor Bill Courtright’s home.
Tim Perry: “Needless to say, I was stunned by the news that came out this week. I found out about the investigation by a phone call from the Scranton Times during the week. And I was also alerted that the mayor did not resign via the Scranton Times website. I’m looking for information just like everyone else at this point.”
Kyle Donahue: “I would only urge the mayor, that if he did nothing wrong, he should make a statement to that effect and continue to come to work every day to do the work the residents of this city elected him to do. If he did do something wrong, especially with everything going on with the school district and in the county, I strongly urge you to do whatever is necessary to spare the residents of this city from the dark cloud of corruption that would inevitably hang over all of us.”
Wayne Evans: “The events of the past week can best be described as shocking. It’s something none of us could have ever expected, and we could only hope for the best and plan for the worst. In the meantime, we can do our very best not to be part of the unfounded rumor mill. We need not to participate in the endless games of speculation and I hope no one takes pleasure for one second in the pain and anguish of others. We’re better than that. With that said, sometime soon, we would all like to hear from the mayor.”
Bill Gaughan: “It was really shocking, all of the news that has come out in the last few days, the last week, that the FBI had raided City Hall and as well the mayor’s home. It’s clear to me that, not only these events, but the events over the last few years, in the city, the school district and the county, that the faith that people have in their government officials has eroded to the point that it’s just become disgraceful. All of us want answers. We need to let the investigation into these matters run its course, allow the authorities to do their job so that all of the facts can be made available.”
Pat Rogan: “None of us are going to comment on rumor or speculation and we’ll see what happens as this investigation pans out. But most importantly to the residents of Scranton — and there have been some questions about ‘what ifs’ during the presentations tonight — city services are not going to be affected. Your police are still going to be working, firemen will still be working, DPW. The city is going to continue to operate, whether it’s under the current mayor, (or) if there’s something that happens, people tend to jump to conclusions. Let’s wait and see what happens. But rest assured, no matter what happens, the residents of Scranton are going to continue to have the same level of service that they’ve had over the last number of decades.”