New Castle News

Closer Look

January 14, 2014

Our Opinion: Dispute over council seat paints troubling picture

NEW CASTLE — A dispute over filling a vacancy on New Castle City Council has us puzzled.

It also has us wondering about the quality of leadership in city government.

Last week, the four current council members deadlocked on efforts to fill the body’s fifth seat. The vacancy for a two-year term exists because Councilman Anthony Adamo won the election for four-year and two-year terms, and he had to choose one.

In recent years, vacancies on council have been handled by inviting members of the public to apply for the position. Then the existing council members — who are tasked with filling the vacancy — make a decision.

But for some reason, two council members, William Panella and Richard Beshero, objected to doing this. Instead, they insisted on bringing Edward Yerage back to council.

Yerage finished his single term on council last year after opting not to seek re-election.

Two new council members, Tim Fulkerson and Adamo, indicated a willingness to seek applications, but they too made proposals for individuals that went nowhere.

If council cannot fill the vacancy within a 30-day time frame, state law allows citizens to petition Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto to make the decision.

When this possibility was raised at last week’s council meeting, Panella — who is an attorney — expressed confidence that Motto would select a qualified person. But we presume Motto’s method would involve seeking applications from interested individuals, rather than pulling names out of a hat.

Yet that’s precisely the process Panella said he didn’t want to pursue from council’s perspective. So Panella was saying he has confidence in Motto, but not in himself and his fellow councilmen.

Meanwhile, after all this played out last week, Yerage contacted the New Castle News yesterday to say he is not interested in the council position. According to Yerage, he is willing to return to council only if no other qualified candidate can be found.

So now Panella tells The News he is prepared to look at applicants and believes council can make a choice. If so, that should end this particular disagreement.

But last week’s squabbling over the vacancy and how to fill it paints a disturbing picture of council. Representative government survives on give and take, as well as the ability to negotiate resolutions to disagreements. If council members are intent on digging in their heels on an issue — without even bothering to consider other possibilities — that’s a disturbing development.

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