What has long been obvious is now official.

The Lawrence County Government Study Commission is dead in the water.

Panel members gave up the ghost after a months-long period of inactivity. The nine-member commission wound up unable to achieve a quorum.

This is an ignominious fate for such an important effort. But it’s a consequence of assorted errors and shortcomings. You could create a college political science course with all that went wrong during this study effort.

The purpose of the study was to examine the current system of Lawrence County government and recommend possible changes to the voters. Typically, such proposals consist of the elimination of certain elected positions, and the restructuring of a diffuse, inefficient system of Pennsylvania county government with one that is more streamlined and more accountable.

Not surprisingly, elected officials who latch on to county positions — with their generous salaries, automatic pay raises, pensions and fringe benefits — have no desire to surrender these perks. Government studies routinely face stiff opposition from the status quo.

That was certainly the case here. And one of the more curious efforts in this regard dealt with the treatment of study commission member John Russo.

Last year, when an opening arose on New Castle City Council, Russo accepted an appointment. But he was told by the city solicitor that a New Castle ordinance prohibited him from holding both posts. So he resigned from the study panel.

With only five commission members supporting the study effort at that point, quorums became impossible without Russo, and no additional meetings took place.

Then council changed its ordinance. And Russo argued he was still on the study commission, because his resignation had never officially been accepted.

That riled up the county commissioners, who — armed with guidance from county solicitor Thomas Leslie — said Pennsylvania’s County Code prohibited Russo from serving on the study commission and on city council at the same time.

The pertinent section of the code states that county “officers” cannot hold elected positions elsewhere in government. The only problem with Leslie’s legal argument is that it’s wrong.

This question is addressed in the state law that establishes procedures for examining and changing municipal and county governments. On page 9 of “Home Rule in Pennsylvania,” a publication from the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services is the following:

“Current officeholders, including local, school, county and state officials are eligible to serve as members of government study commissions.”

There are no restrictions, no exceptions. As for New Castle’s old ordinance, I doubt its language outranked an electoral right granted by state law. Russo never was obliged to resign.

It didn’t take me much effort to obtain this information, and I’m no lawyer. If I didn’t know better, I would think Leslie was issuing opinions designed to serve the commissioners, rather than follow the law.

Five years ago, when another county government study took place in Lawrence County, three of its seven members were elected municipal officials. No one objected. So what was the deal this time around?

I see it as part of a continuing effort to imply illegal actions on the part of study advocates. It’s pretty shameful.

And it’s an excellent example of why this outmoded, self-serving system of government deserves to be scrapped.

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