City council deadlocked on vacancy

Feb. 13—New Castle City Council is deadlocked on who to appoint to its ranks.

Mayor Mark Elisco said council is divided 3-3 on whether to appoint Republican Eric Francis or Democrat Eddie Bogaert to a vacant two-year seat and will likely be decided by judges.

Elisco said he, Deputy Mayor Eric Ritter and Councilman Robert Razzano want to appoint Francis, while Councilmen Bryan Cameron, Terry Rodgers and David Ward favor Bogaert. All current members of council are Democrats.

"It did not surprise me. Both candidates are excellent candidates," said Elisco, who has pushed for a quick appointment to move forward with the city's busy agenda this year. "Both brought a lot to the table."

Francis and Bogaert conducted public interviews for the two-year seat on Feb. 5 with the intention of council appointing one of the candidates during its Thursday meeting.

Not only was there no vote, council did not address the vacancy or any decision-making during Thursday's meeting.

Elisco said this matter will now go before the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas unless one of the council members decides to change his position.

"I don't think that's going to occur," Elisco said.

Under Pennsylvania Statute Title 53, in the event of a tie for an appointment, a panel of the four common pleas judges will conduct applications and interviews for the vacant seat, following a formal petition brought before the court by 10 or more qualified electors in the city.

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Applications and interviews would not be limited to just Francis or Bogaert.

The statute states in the event the panel of judges is deadlocked, the president judge is allowed to break the tie to choose a candidate.

This process was done in 2023 to appoint Brian Burick as a Lawrence County commissioner to fill the remaining term of former Commissioner Morgan Boyd.

The statute also states city council had the authority to appoint a member to its ranks to fill any unexpired term outside of a municipal election.

The seat in question expires on Dec. 31, 2025, to match the terms of Ritter and Ward.

The seat was created with the adoption of the city's Home Rule charter in 2023. Council decided not to appoint anyone to the seat last year, deciding to wait for November's general election.

Cameron defeated Francis for the two-year seat in the November election and also won a four-year term. He accepted the four-year term, leaving the shorter one vacant. Francis also ran for a four-year seat and finished fourth in a race where the top three earned seats.

Elisco said he, Razzano and Ritter want Francis appointed because he finished in fourth place during the election for council for the four-year seats. Francis is a former city recreation task force and zoning hearing board member, a former city employee for garbage management, a former sales representative and worked with the U.S. Air Force on its Disaster Preparedness Board.

Elisco said Bogaert is Cameron's cousin through marriage. However, he said that is not the reason Bogaert is running for council, as he wants to help the city move forward and believes his family ties to Cameron are "irrelevant."