East Nottingham Township Vacancy Board is unable to reach an agreement on a candidate to fill supervisor vacancy
By Steven Hoffman
The East Nottingham Township Vacancy Board – comprised of supervisors Art Rieck, John Coldiron, and Joe Raffa, as well as township secretary Pat Brady – convened at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 22 to attempt to fill one of the two vacancies on the township’s Board of Supervisors.
It was a tense, unusual meeting from the onset.
Brady, serving as the chairperson of the vacancy board, made a motion to appoint Joe Bauer to fill a vacancy created by supervisor Jane Ladley’s resignation in November. Bauer was one of the five eligible people who offered letters of interest to fill the vacancy. Rieck seconded the motion to appoint Bauer. When the vote was taken to appoint Bauer, Brady and Rieck voted yes, while Coldiron and Raffa opposed the appointment.
Next, Raffa made a motion to nominate Gary Coates, who also submitted a letter of interest to fill this vacancy. Raffa said that Coates finished in third place in the most recent election, and he should be the one appointed to fill the vacancy since the top two vote-getters won seats on the board. Raffa added that 28 letters had been submitted in support of Coates. Coldiron seconded the motion. Brady and Rieck voted against the motion to appoint Coates. Coldiron and Raffa voted for the appointment. The Vacancy Board was deadlocked.
There was no other motion to appoint a different candidate, so Brady made a motion to adjourn the meeting. She and Rieck voted to adjourn the meeting, while Coldiron and Raffa opposed the motion for adjournment.
So there the supervisors sat, unable to agree to disagree.
Coldiron, following up on Raffa’s comments, said that it was “entirely appropriate” that the third-highest vote-getter in the election be appointed to fill the vacancy because it would be in support of the will of the voters of East Nottingham Township. Coldiron nominated Coates again. When this vote was taken, the Vacancy Board was again deadlocked.
Coldiron then said that if the Vacancy Board won’t appoint Coates, then his father, John D. Coldiron, who also submitted a letter of interest for the position, is then the most qualified candidate for the position. Coldiron made a motion to appoint his father to the board. There was no second to the motion and consequently it failed.
Brady made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Rieck seconded the motion. Raffa and Coldiron opposed the motion when the vote was taken.
Residents in the audience grew increasingly frustrated and peppered the supervisors with criticisms. Some argued in favor of Coates’ candidacy, while others pointed out that a vast majority of the voters who went to the polls supported the other candidates, not Coates.
There was another motion to adjourn the meeting, but the vote was exactly the same: 2-2.
The members of the Vacancy Board were visibly uncomfortable as the minutes passed by and residents’ complaints grew louder. There were questions raised about what would happen if the Vacancy Board couldn’t reach a consensus on a candidate.
Township solicitor Winifred Sebastian explained that in the event that the Vacancy Board couldn’t reach agreement on a candidate, the issue would go before the Chester County Court of Common Pleas and a judge would make the appointment.
Brady made a motion to adjourn the meeting, but again the vote was 2-2.
Next, Coldiron explained that the fourth-highest vote-getter in the election was Raffa so he nominated his colleague on the board to fill the vacancy.
Sebastian quickly pointed out several serious issues with the nomination of Raffa. He is already on the board of supervisors, and his term doesn’t end until Dec. 31. This was a meeting of the Vacancy Board, not the board of supervisors, and so the board of supervisors couldn’t really accept Raffa’s resignation anyway. The motion to nominate Raffa failed when no one would second it.
The discontent in the audience grew.
There continued to be some support for Coates’ candidacy because he finished third in the election. Others, including Rieck, argued that finishing in last place among the candidates who were on the ballot, didn’t exactly amount to a mandate.
Regarding the letters of support that had been submitted to the township in support of Coates, township resident Joe Scheese noted that all the letters contained the same spelling mistake—a clear indication that the letters were mass-produced and circulated for signatures.
After a few more minutes of back-and-forth arguments, someone in the audience pointed out that if one or two members of the Vacancy Board simply left, the discussion about filling the vacancy would end—with or without a vote to adjourn.
At approximately 7:53 p.m., with the Vacancy Board clearly deadlocked, Brady stated that since the board couldn’t come to an agreement, the meeting was over, even if the board couldn’t agree to adjourn.
People started gathering their coats and belongings and packing up. But one of the supervisors, either Coldiron or Raffa, said that he felt the Vacancy Board would still have a quorum and could conduct business, even if Brady and Rieck left.
Sebastian said after the meeting that her opinion in that moment was that it would be better for the township if it avoided a scenario where a vote would be taken with only two people present. So Brady and Rieck returned to their seats and continued.
Rieck made a motion to appoint Bauer. Rieck noted that Bauer has been involved with East Nottingham Township for many years, and has served capably on the township’s planning commission. The vote, predictably, was 2-2.
Next, Raffa made a motion to appoint Coates. It was the same 2-2 result when the vote was taken.
The Vacancy Board could have gone on for the next hour taking their 2-2 votes, but instead the floor was given to Coates, who embarked on a wide-ranging 50-minute talk about a variety of topics.
After that was finished, Brady called for a ten-minute break.
When the Vacancy Board returned, Brady made a motion to adjourn. It was a 2-2 vote.
Raffa made a motion to allow more public comment. That motion also failed, 2-2.
Raffa nominated Coates to fill a vacancy. That vote was 2-2. Brady countered by nominating Bauer. That motion also failed to carry, 2-2.
Since the preferred candidates for either side weren’t getting the necessary support, Coldiron encouraged the other members of the Vacancy Board to consider other options.
“I’ve brought up three different residents,” Coldiron said. “Is there anyone else you’d like to nominate?”
Brady and Rieck both said that they didn’t want to nominate anyone else other than Bauer.
Raffa nominated a woman named Sandy Fisher, but from the audience a female voice declined that nomination.
Raffa made a motion to nominate Coates. The vote was again 2-2. He nominated Bill Taylor, a township resident, but that motion also failed to carry.
Finally, after about 150 minutes of getting nowhere, Coldiron made a motion to adjourn, which Brady and Rieck quickly supported. The meeting was over, but without a supervisor being appointed.
The vacancy issue will now go to the Chester County Court of Common Pleas for a decision. The case will be assigned to the next available judge. The candidate who is ultimately selected to fill the vacancy will serve the remainder of the unexpired term that runs through December 2017.
Coldiron and Raffa both have terms coming to an end on Dec. 31. Two newly elected supervisors will be sworn in at the reorganization meeting in January. At some point, the reconfigured board of supervisors will have the opportunity to appoint a person to fill the vacancy that was created when supervisor Scott Blum tendered his resignation in December.