The Legislature isn't likely to take up removing a local official from office.
By VIRGINIA ROSS
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- State Sen. Gerald LaValle said he is willing to revisit the possibility of asking the state Senate to pursue impeachment proceedings against Lawrence County Treasurer Gary Felasco.
But first, he said, he needs to discuss the situation with state Sen. Bob Robbins, R-Greenville.
LaValle, a Beaver County Democrat, said he had learned through news articles the county commissioners were planning to write to him and Robbins urging the two officials, who serve parts of Lawrence County, to pursue whatever measures are necessary to have Felasco removed from office.
LaValle said that as of Friday morning, he had not received that correspondence. "But when I do, I will respond," he said. "First I want to talk to Sen. Robbins. Maybe together we can again present this matter to the chief counsel of the Senate. I don't know what good it will do. We have already gone down this path. ... We were told there is no interest at the state in pursuing impeachment proceedings for a local elected official. Part of the problem, I think, is that it has never been done."
Robbins was not available for comment.
He said state officials have said they are concerned that by pursuing impeachment proceedings for one local elected official, they could be expected to follow the same path for others.
LaValle said the chief counsel has already indicated there is no interest in convening the Senate to take this type of action against Felasco.
Meanwhile, county commissioners have said they are becoming more frustrated with the situation. At a recent meeting, they agreed to write letters to various state officials including LaValle, Robbins and Gov. Ed Rendell, hoping to force some resolution.
Commissioners have accused Felasco of abandoning his job, compromising the public's trust and misusing his office.
On Thursday, after having been away from work for nearly a month, Felasco made an appearance at the treasurer's office. He has visited his office sporadically over the past year.
County residents continue attending commissioners' meetings, asking for Felasco's removal. Commissioners repeatedly explain they have no authority to remove an elected official from office. They cannot force Felasco to go to work and they cannot 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. Although he is being investigated by state police and the state attorney general's office, he has not been charged with any crimes. Commissioners said they have received little word regarding those investigations except that they are active and ongoing.
LaValle said he is disappointed those investigations have "dragged on" as long as they have. He said the best-case scenario would be for the Felasco investigations to result in criminal charges being filed against him, which could result in the courts stepping in to have him removed from the treasurer's seat.
On Thursday, at their weekly caucus, commissioners said that 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 and receive his paycheck. 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 House of Representatives approved the measure a few weeks ago, though the state Senate is not expected to vote on it until fall.
LaValle and Robbins have asked commissioners for their input as to how they would like the two senators to vote on the measure.
"We would like to see this issue with Felasco resolved too," LaValle said. "He's been asked to resign, but he hasn't. We've all taken a real beating over this. If we can get him out of office, we will. But again, this isn't something we haven't already looked at. ...
"I would like to see the commissioners withhold Felasco's paycheck and then let him get a lawyer to fight them for his pay. Unfortunately, there just is no easy answer."