Commissioners say they can't remove an elected official.
By VIRGINIA ROSS
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- After publicly being accused of abandoning his job, Lawrence County Treasurer Gary Felasco returned to work this week.
On Thursday, Felasco, who has been the focus of what many county residents have coined the & quot;Felasco Fiasco, & quot; spent much of the day closed off in his office at the Lawrence County Government Center.
Just as he has dodged questions and remarks from the public for months, Felasco slammed doors in the faces of constituents and news reporters attempting to ask him where he has been and what he has been doing in past months.
On Tuesday, at their weekly public meeting, county commissioners agreed to write to state officials - including Gov. Ed Rendell and senators Gerald LaValle and Bob Robbins, who serve Lawrence County, urging them to begin taking any necessary measures to remove Felasco from office.
& quot;We have done all that we can do as a board of commissioners, & quot; said Commissioner Dan Vogler, chairman. & quot;We have no power, no authority to remove him from office. & quot;
Commissioner Steve Craig said that, if for no other reason, state officials should remove Felasco from his post for job abandonment. He said Felasco had not been to work for at least three weeks, and in the past year he has shown up only sporadically.
Commissioner Ed Fosnaught said Felasco has no business remaining in office because he has compromised the public's trust. He speculated state officials might be reluctant to remove Felasco because they are concerned it could start a trend of the public asking for their elected officials to be removed from office.
Meanwhile, residents have continued attending commissioners' meetings, asking for Felasco's removal. This week, commissioners again explained that they do not have the power to remove an elected official from office.
Further, commissioners said they cannot force Felasco to go to work or withhold his paycheck. Commissioners removed Felasco from the tax claim director's post, an appointed position, last year after it was discovered he had not paid his own taxes for several years.
Felasco has not been charged with any crimes, but he is being investigated by state police and the state attorney general's office. Commissioners said those authorities have not provided information about the status of the investigations, except to say they are active and ongoing.
According to results of two audits, nearly $50,000 in county tax payments made in 2003 remains unaccounted for, having never been deposited into the county's general checking account.
Thursday, at their weekly caucus, commissioners said even if new legislation that would remove the county from the Venango Act successfully passes through the state Legislature, Felasco would still remain in office.
The Venango Act includes Lawrence County as one of four counties where the treasurer is required to collect the county's real estate taxes.
The new legislation would give the county's 26 municipal tax collectors the authority to collect county taxes and remove those responsibilities from the county. The state Senate is not expected to vote on the bill until fall. The state House of Representatives approved the measure by a 199-1 vote a few weeks ago.
Vogler said that repealing the Venango Act would not result in eliminating the county treasurer's position, or removing Felasco from office.
"This bill serves to remove certain tax collection responsibilities from the county," he said. "It seems some people are very confused about that."