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Three dead in accident at Penns Valley farm

Plus, what happens when local elected officials call it quits?

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September 22, 2022
Inside this edition: How Pa. local elected officials fill vacancies, skill games company woos Pa. lawmakers with trips to wild Wyoming rodeo, and the start of fall fest season.
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Local government explained: What happens when elected officials leave?

Moving away, prioritizing a health issue, and death are common reasons why local elected officials leave their seats before the end of their term. What happens then, and who gets to make the final call?

Different levels of municipalities in Pennsylvania — borough, township, county, and city — each have their own set of rules that govern vacancies in elected offices. 

Although the specifics vary, the general procedure for filling vacancies is “substantially similar,” according to Scott Coburn, education director and counsel for the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.

Generally speaking, the remaining members of a borough council or township board of supervisors appoint a qualified replacement. In most cases, they are given 30 days from when the vacancy is created to complete this task. A vacancy begins when a resignation is accepted, rather than when it was announced or submitted.

A vast majority of vacancies are filled this way, Coburn said, but in case the remaining elected officials can’t agree on a replacement, a critical fail-safe is a position called the vacancy board chair.

A vacancy board chair joins the remaining members and acts as a tiebreaker to fill the empty seat. Coburn said a big focus in his work is to make sure municipalities appoint this chair position every year so they can be in a good position if a vacancy occurs.

“If a municipality neglects to appoint a vacancy board chair, and the other members are in disagreement as to who to select, and at that point … you have to go to court, which would just cost additional money,” Coburn said. 

Some vacancy issues became so deadlocked that the court had to get involved, as the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas did for the Salisbury Borough Council in 1984. 

Even then, the court voiced its reluctance and wrote, “appointments to public office cannot be accurately described as a judicial task, although it is recognized that, as a practical matter, there are times when a neutral outsider is needed and the court can fulfill that function.” It stressed that “a local appointment is preferred.”

Filling vacancies is a political question that can feel emotionally difficult, Coburn said, especially at times of loss.

“On one hand, [remaining officials] want to grieve the loss of their official, colleague, friend, but on the other hand, they have a finite amount of time that they have to act within to appoint somebody else,” he said. “It’s not a complicated procedure … but you have to overlay the human aspect and the law’s process at the same time.”

Min Xian, local accountability reporter

🗳️ Election Center
A quick guide to all of Spotlight PA's 2022 election coverage:

»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot

En Español:

Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

» THE STATE OF PA.’S ELECTIONS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6:00 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A with Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman, who oversees elections in Pennsylvania. Chapman will discuss how her agency secures and runs elections, explain the state’s voting policies, and answer all of your more pressing election questions. Register for the free event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
📝 More From Spotlight PA
» Thousands of older Pennsylvanians at risk of losing property tax rebates because of legislative inaction

» Skill games company woos Pa. lawmakers with trips to wild Wyoming rodeo

» A complete guide to Spotlight PA's investigations of Pennsylvania's flawed medical marijuana program
📷 Local Gem
Chris Fravel | The Drone Geek (@thedronegeek) captured this stunning aerial image of the historic Ramsey Bridge, which crosses Pine Creek in Lycoming County. Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
📰 In Other News
» Three dead at Penns Valley farm after emergency crews responded to people trapped in silo (Centre Daily Times)

» USDA will give Penn State $25M to work with PA dairy farmers on combating climate change (Centre Daily Times)

» U.S. Labor Department drops lawsuit against Centre County Mexican restaurant (WPSU)

» Mediation in Clearfield inmate death case fails (Altoona Mirror)

» Lawsuit regarding alleged brutal hazing at Bucknell fraternity dismissed (NorthcentralPA.com)

» 15 buildings with apartments and retail space proposed near University Park Airport (Centre Daily Times)

» City rescue plan fund investment of about $900K decided on (Williamsport Sun-Gazette)
📅 Events
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Sept. 22: The Philosophy of Hope IV concert benefiting the Jana Marie Foundation highlights State College area musicians at The State Theatre.

» Sept. 22-25: The Central Pennsylvania Ragtime & American Music Festival features concerts, lectures, silent movies, and events with the East Broad Top Railroad and Rockhill Trolley Museum.

» Sept. 23: Enjoy live music at Rhoneymeade Arboretum & Sculpture Garden in Centre Hall as Spaces In Between presents an Inclusive, Rustic, Art and Music Experience.

» Sept. 23: German beer, polka music, and a steinholding competition highlight Tussey Mountain Oktoberfest.

» Sept. 24: "Art and agriculture meet" at the Huntingdon County Fairgrounds for Fiber ArtsFest.

» Sept. 24-25: DelGrosso's hosts its Harvestfest Season Finale, a festival devoted to food, crafts, and entertainment. 

» Sept. 24-25: The third annual Native American Pow-wow and Gathering at Austin Dam Memorial Park honors the 78 people who died during the 1911 flood.
🧩 The Puzzler
An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, "spotlight" also forms "stoplight."

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

Good luck!

Last week's answer: Leaf

Congrats to James E., who will receive Spotlight PA State College swag. Others who answered correctly: Jessica C., Donna D., Annette B., Tish M., Warren D., Gordon F., Steve B., Thomas S., and Jay G.
Do you have events, community shoutouts, questions about our region, or tips on stories that we should pursue? Email our team.
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