Merino selected to fill vacancy on Kennett Square Borough Council
By Steven Hoffman
Kennett Square Borough officials selected Lorenzo Merino to fill a vacancy on borough council during a meeting on Monday night.
Merino, a banker with a strong background in finance, will serve on council for the remainder of the year. The vacancy that Merino is filling was created when Wayne Braffman formally tendered his resignation at a council meeting on April 15. Braffman’s term was set to expire at the end of this year. Merino was already seeking to win a seat on council in the upcoming election before the vacancy came up.
The decision to appoint Merino was anything but easy for the six borough council members—Doug Doerfler, LaToya Myers, Jamie Mallon, Brenda Mercomes, Ethan Cramer, and Peter Waterkotte.
The difficulty started with the number and the quality of candidates who applied to fill a vacancy.
“We received a number of applications and we thank each person who applied,” Doerfler, the council president, said.
Mallon noted that all five candidates were strong, and each one offers something different that council could benefit from.
How strong were the candidates?
When Doerfler asked for his colleagues to make their nominations to fill the vacancy, one well-known and well-liked resident who applied for the position didn't even earn a nomination. There were two nominations, with Waterkotte nominating Merino and Myers nominating Mayra Zavala, who has strong ties to the Latino community in the area and has served on a number of Kennett Square Borough committees in recent years, including the borough’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs.
A lengthy public comment session followed. A number of people who spoke expressed support for Zavala's candidacy, and a large contingent of audience members were clearly hoping that she would be appointed to the position on borough council.
When it was borough council's time to vote on the two candidates who had been nominated, it quickly became apparent that they were deadlocked, three-to-three, in their support for the two candidates.
Mallon, Doerfler, and Waterkotte favored the appointment of Merino, while Myers, Cramer, and Mercomes favored the appointment of Zavala. When borough council formally voted on each candidate, it solidified the fact that the council members were evenly divided between the two candidates.
Waterkotte commented on the difficult decision that borough council was facing, explaining that both the nominees were highly qualified. He pointed out that the resignation of Braffman left a void on the Finance Committee. Merino's strong background in finance would be an asset to council, Waterkotte said.
Cramer said that while he believed that Merino is very qualified, he favored Zavala for the seat on council for her dedication to Kennett Square and her work with the Latino community.
If the borough council members were in an uncomfortable and awkward position attempting to fill the vacancy while they were sharply divided, Mayor Matthew Fetick was put in an even more awkward, and more uncomfortable position of having to break the tie.
He quickly acknowledged that, with the way the situation had unfolded, it was inevitable that he was going to make a group of people unhappy, regardless of what decision he made.
Fetick said that the five people who applied to fill the vacancy were all good candidates, and he personally hoped that the candidates seeking to fill the vacancy would not be the same ones who were running for a full term in the upcoming election.
Fetick added that he had the option of sending the issue back to council without breaking the tie, but he would not do that because that would require council to meet again within 10 days, and they would still be deadlocked and likely would have a hard time reaching a consensus. That would force the borough to convene its vacancy board, which is a rare step. Fetick then made a decision, voting against Zavala's nomination, making the final vote 4-3 against the resolution. The mayor then supported the resolution appointing Merino to fill the vacancy. That nomination was approved, 4-3.
Fetick then had the duty of administering the oath of office to Merino, who promptly took a seat on council.
There was a strong feeling at the meeting that, in a borough that has such a large Latino population, there is a need for Latino representation on borough council and other elements of the local government. There are a number of Latino candidates who are seeking a seat on borough council in the 2019 election.
Luis Tovar, the chairperson of the Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, said that the commission’s work has helped members of the Latino community to become more engaged in local government, and having candidates seeking seats on council is an indication of the progress that has been made.