Judge considering study commission petition

Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto, above, may rule as early as next week on a challenge to the government study commission nomination form of Shannon Crisci-Brock.

Shannon N. Crisci-Brock told a Lawrence County judge that she has filed an amendment to her financial statement to qualify her as a candidate for the city of New Castle's study commission.

Crisci-Brock, representing herself, submitted a copy of her amendment to Common Pleas President Judge Dominick Motto yesterday in court. Her nominating papers for a seat on the study commission — if the commission's creation is approved by the voters — is being challenged in court by seven of her opponents. 

They are contending that Crisci-Brock did not properly fill out her financial disclosure forms. 

After a 20-minute court hearing in Motto's courtroom yesterday, he said he would take paperwork under advisement and rule on it within the appropriate time frame.

Motto pointed out that the petition to remove Crisci-Brock as a candidate, as filed, was unsigned.

Lawrence County director of elections Ed Allison said the judge has about a week to render a decision on the matter, under the law.

Allison added outside of the hearing that there is no deadline for a candidate to file an amendment to his or her financial statement.

Allison said Crisci-Brock filed the amendment to her financial statement Thursday in the county voter registration office. The filing is for the year 2018, and it identifies two of her creditors and names Hess Commercial Printing Inc. of Wilmington Avenue as her employer last year, he said.

"From my standpoint, she's fine," Allison said yesterday afternoon.

The group filed the petition to challenge Crisci-Brock as a candidate on Tuesday, the day before the deadline to file any challenges.

Her seven opponents presented the judge with three instances of Supreme Court case law they contend supports their petition to eliminate her as a candidate for the commission. 

The judge, because their petition was unsigned, polled all seven under oath — Michael Dely, Mary Burris, Susan Linville, Paul Neubecker, Eric Ritter, Michael Tempesta and Marenda Zeronas — about whether they, in fact, were supporters and filers of it, and they each said yes.

Their petition claims Crisci-Brock did not disclose a place of her employment on the statement of financial interest that she filed in the county elections office. It notes that Crisci-Brock checked the box marked none for two reporting fields for showing business employment or profit.

Dely, on behalf of the group, told the court yesterday, "We believe that these omissions were, in fact, deliberate."

He continued that the three Supreme Court cases show those omissions "to be fatal flaws."

Deli wanted to present a sworn statement to the judge that was signed by a woman who attested to being a co-worker of Crisci-Brock, but the judge would not accept it, saying sworn statements are not permissible and that they are considered hearsay.

Crisci-Brock told the judge that when she filed her nominating papers, she wasn't given instructions, she only received a copy of a four-page form.

"I only filled out the contributions form and not the financial form," she commented in court. "I'm not a politician, I'm just hoping to do something good for the city."

Altogether, 11 city residents have filed nominating papers to serve on the government study commission, should it be approved by the voters in the Nov. 5 general election.

New Castle has been under Act 47  – the Financially distressed Municipalities Act — designation since Jan. 5, 2007 and is one of 29 cities in Pennsylvania to have that designation. 

The act gives the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development the authority to declare certain municipalities as financially distressed. The designation provides for the restructuring of debt of financially distressed municipalities, limits the ability of financially distressed communities to obtain government funding, authorizes municipalities to participate in federal debt adjustment actions and bankruptcy actions under certain circumstances and provides for consolidation or merger of contiguous municipalities to relieve financial distress. In short, the act assists municipalities with financial recovery.

Some municipalities have had the financially distressed designation removed, but cannot afford to lose the benefits Act 47 provides, which include the revenue from a non-resident wage tax available only to cities with Act 47 status.

New Castle is in the process of an exit plan from the designation, with a recommendation from the state to reorganize under the state’s Home Rule charter, which will allow the city to continue to collect the earned income tax that it has relied upon since becoming an Act 47 community. Under a home rule charter, approval of a commission to study the form of government or possible change is one of the first steps and is done by a ballot referendum and the election of a study commission at the same time. The members chosen will serve if the question passes.

New Castle voters will decide Nov. 5 whether to elect a government study commission to consider changing the existing form of government, and at the same time elect seven members who would serve on that commission, if the question passes.

Allison said the last time city voters participated in this sort of election was in 1963. As a result then, the city went from a commission form of government consisting of four council members to the existing mayor/council form of government in January 1968.

The candidates for the study commission, in addition to the seven challengers and Crisci-Brock, are city police officer Richard E. Conti Jr., Democrat, city fireman Marco A. Bulisco, Republican,  and Democrat Anthony G. Mastrangelo of East Garfield Avenue, New Castle’s mayor.

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

Reporter

Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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