Canonsburg Council in turmoil over appointments

January 14, 2014
From left, Canonsburg Councilmen Paul Sharkady, John Severine and Tim Bilsky opposed the appointments of John Bevec and Rich Russo to council. - Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

CANONSBURG – Tensions continue to mount on Canonsburg Borough Council as a block of three borough officials challenges the seating of two other council members.

Councilmen Paul Sharkady, Tim Bilsky and John Severine argued at Monday’s meeting that John Bevec and Rich Russo should not have been appointed to council last week. Bevec and Russo fulfilled their terms on council in 2013 and did not run for re-election, but both were appointed to two-year terms when Mayor Dave Rhome cast a tie-breaking vote during the reorganization meeting.

Council members Fran Coleman and Joseph McGarry voted to appoint Bevec and Russo, while Bilsky and Sharkady voted to appoint Frank Tatano and George Coleman. Bevec also was chosen for another term as council president during that meeting. The two council seats were open because they were not filled in the last election.

Severine, who was not sworn in at last week’s meeting because he did not have his paperwork in order, said the outcome would have been different if he had been permitted to vote.

“They didn’t want whoever I wanted to nominate,” Severine said. “The people elected me, and they took my right away to vote. … They kept me out from voting because they wanted to put their own people back in. That’s all it was.”

During Monday’s meeting, Sharkady made a motion to void the appointments of Bevec and Russo. Bilsky seconded that motion, but it died on a 3-4 vote. Severine also voted in favor, while McGarry, Fran Coleman, Bevec and Russo voted against the motion.

Sharkady then made a motion to reorganize council, which was seconded by Severine. It also died on a 3-4 vote. After both of those motions failed, Sharkady said he contacted an attorney who plans to file a complaint through District Attorney Gene Vittone’s office to question the validity of the appointments. Vittone said his office can accept quo warranto cases – challenging an official’s right to hold power – and that previous cases have concerned officials who moved outside of their municipalities without resigning.

Sharkady said it was unjust and inconsistent that Severine had to produce his affidavit of residency, but Sharkady and other incumbent council members did not. Despite being former council members, Bevec and Russo also had to provide their affidavits.

Borough solicitor Patrick Derrico said that in his opinion, incumbents did not have to produce an affidavit because it was “common sense” that they were borough residents. He said Bevec and Russo, however, were strangers, in effect, because their terms on council had ended.

“Maybe it’s not consistent, but it seems common sense to me,” Derrico said.

Reached Tuesday, Derrico said he was following both borough code and Robert’s Rules by allowing Rhome the authority to break the tie. He said he was familiar with the section of the law that pertained to the mayor’s participation because it had come up at past meetings.

John Lombardo, a Canonsburg resident and Severine’s cousin, spoke out at Monday’s meeting and questioned why no one in the election or borough offices told Severine he needed an affidavit of residency.

In a letter sent several days earlier to Rhome, Lombardo questioned whether the events of last week’s meeting were orchestrated in order to reappoint Bevec and Russo.

“The solicitor was very quick to point out the law, which I witnessed from my seat was highlighted for quick reference,” Lombardo wrote. “It was perceived some of the sitting members of council were waiting for Mr. Severine not to have the proper documentation required, and they certainly were quick to act on this law in order for his vote not to be counted.”

Lombardo added, “In essence, you took away the vote of the people of this borough by staging this event.”

Severine said he was in disbelief that he “got denied,” especially because his mother had come to watch him be sworn into office. He also questioned whether Derrico could have produced and notarized an affidavit for him during that meeting.

Derrico said it was not his responsibility to produce an affidavit.

“I’m not the guy that said he was the winner,” Derrico said about the general election. “That’s not my job. All I know is if he doesn’t present it, he couldn’t get seated.”

Lombardo said the fact that Bevec had his affidavit with him at the reorganization meeting was a sign that Severine’s denial was planned. Bevec said he had the paperwork with him because he heard there was a chance his name would come up for reappointment. Russo was not at that meeting and provided his affidavit later.

Throughout the remainder of Monday’s meeting, 4-3 votes were frequent. Sharkady, Bilsky and Severine all voted against Bevec’s appointment to a five-year term on Canonsburg-Houston Joint Authority, the approval of the joint authority’s operations budget, Russo’s appointment to the vice president position, Derrico’s reappointment as solicitor and a couple other zoning board and planning commission positions.

Rhome again cast tie-breaking votes and approved the appointments of Coleman as president pro tem and Bilsky as a planning commission member because Coleman and Bilsky abstained from voting on their own nominations.

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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