To rework a phrase from Shakespeare, there’s something rotten in the borough of Canonsburg.
The always-contentious borough council has been even more so since the beginning of the month, when new member John Severine was not sworn in to the council seat to which he was duly elected in November because he did not have proof in hand that he was, in fact, a resident of Canonsburg. Being able to provide such proof became a requirement for elected officials in boroughs around the state as of 2012. This applies to only boroughs, not other forms of municipal government, and makes not a whit of sense to us – if such proof is needed, why shouldn’t it be provided at the time a candidate says they want to be on the ballot?
Nonetheless, Severine was ordered to sit on the sidelines during council’s reorganization meeting, while council incumbent Paul Sharkady was sworn-in, even though he, like Severine, did not have the requisite proof of residency. Patrick Derrico, the borough’s solicitor, has since offered the lame excuse that an incumbent is assumed to be a resident, hence no proof is needed.
Because there were no candidates for two of three available council seats in the last election, council went ahead and appointed former council members John Bevec and Rich Russo to the two empty slots, with Mayor David Rhome acting as a tie-breaking vote, though the outcome might very well have been different had Severine been allowed to vote.
What has raised some suspicions is that Bevec, who is also a former county commissioner, happened to be sitting in the audience and – voila! – had his proof of residency at the ready.
At the council’s next meeting, after Severine was seated, motions to undo the votes of the previous meeting went nowhere. The newly-installed councilman and his allies are now saying they are going to ask Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone to investigate.
In fairness, both Bevec and Russo have demonstrated they are competent and able members of council. But the way in which they were brought on to council, and the treatment of Severine, has a certain stink about it. It would have been better to place him on council and allow him to vote, and then have him provide his proof of residency at the next meeting, or even the next day,
As it is, this seems to have been as choreographed as meticulously as a Gene Kelly movie. Or, perhaps more appropriately, professional wrestling.