PA high court to hear Concord First appeal

***This story has been updated***

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of Concord First regarding that group’s desire for a question to be placed on the November ballot.

In July, the citizens’ group filed a petition with more than 900 signatures — more than the 582 needed — that asked whether there should be a ballot question asking voters if they want to change the township from a township of the second class to a township of the first class.

The Delaware County Board of Elections challenged the petition, and the Court of Common Pleas denied the request in August. Commonwealth Court upheld that decision. Concord First then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“As concerned residents who are committed to bringing change to what we believe is a broken local government which is not working in the best interests of its residents, we felt an obligation and responsibility to persevere despite the obstacles the supervisors continued to put in front of us,” said Concord First’s Colette Brown in an e-mail.

Brown further said that despite the earlier setbacks, she felt the group had gone “too far to simply give up.” She said Concord residents have a “constitutional right to have their question placed on the ballot.”

Township solicitor Hugh Donaghue and Supervisors’ Chairman Dominic Pileggi were unavailable for immediate comment. [See update below]

There is no word yet on when the Supreme Court will hear the appeal, but the election is Nov. 4.

Common Pleas Court Judge James Proud ruled that the petition was too late, that it needed to have been filed in time for the 2013 election. Proud’s ruling, which was upheld in Commonwealth Court, was based on an interpretation of the statute that says such a question had to be on the ballot for the first municipal election after the 2010 census.

Concord First’s interpretation is that the question needed to be on the ballot for the first municipal election after the census plus after the petition was filed.

Brown has previously said that Proud’s ruling was based on too narrow an interpretation, that it would limit when a question of this type to go before the public.

In allowing the appeal, the state high court said on Oct. 17:

“The issue as stated by Petitioners, is: Does 53 P.S. §55207 restrict granting of a registered voter petition to submit to voters of the subject township, a ballot question for reclassification to First Class, to the first municipal or general election at least ninety days after only the ascertainment of the minimum population density specified in the statute of three hundred inhabitants per square mile, or does 53 P.S. §55207 require submission of the ballot question to voters of the subject township at the first municipal or general election at least ninety days after both the ascertainment of minimum population density and after a petition signed by five per centum of the registered voter of the township is filed with the court? It is further ordered that the matter will be SUBMITTED on the briefs. The prothonotary is directed to set a briefing schedule.”

***Begin Update***

According to township solicitor Hugh Donaghue, Concord First is arguing that the circulation of the petition is what determines which election is used for the question. In his opinion, though, the statue requires the ascertainment of population to set the timing.

He said the 2010 census became official in March of 2011, but Concord’s population could have changed since then, dropping below the 300 people per square mile required for a township of the first class. If that were the case, the petition would be invalid.

For the petition to be proper, Concord First should have filed a petition for special enrollment, which would take at least 25 percent of the voters to petition that the population was at least 300 per square mile, Donaghue said.

“An ascertainment is either the special enrollment procedure or, in this case, an official recognition by county officials with respect to this data,” he said. “In this case, neither one of those were done.”

He added that Concord First could have petitioned the court to force the issue, which wasn’t done.

Donaghue also suggested a specific motive for the petition.  He cited the 2013 supervisors’ election in which Dan Levin, a member of Concord First, lost.

The solicitor said that if Concord First’s question was on the ballot and if the voters approved, the current board of supervisors would be eliminated and the court would appoint new officials until another election was held within the following year.

“There was a fair election. The people spoke, the people voted and he doesn’t like the results and goes file a petition? That’s ludicrous,” Donaghue said.

Levin said Donaghue is incorrect.

“While I had no illusions and nothing personal to gain if I had been elected, on election day I saw in the supervisors' faces that they were very worried they would lose the election and the other benefits they receive from their positions. It's clear to me that many, many residents of Concord Township have lost faith in the supervisors' judgment. That is what led to the Concord First effort,” Levin said.

“Regarding Mr. Donaghue's assertions regarding my motives, I can only respond that I'm a homeowner and registered voter in Concord Township. From what I've seen I have concluded that Mr. Donaghue and many of the current batch of supervisors and their political cronies are bullies. And I'm the kind of person who stands up to bullies.”

 

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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2 Responses to “PA high court to hear Concord First appeal”

  1. Rob Gurnee says:

    Why is Hugh Donaghue engaging in political debate on behalf of the Concord Township Supervisors? He is now holding himself as not only an expert in the law, but also a mind reader as to people’s personal and political motivations.

    PA Code § 33.3-304 states that is the Solicitor’s job to furnish legal opinions to the Township, prepare and approve legal documents and engage in related legal matters. Do your job Mr. Donaghue.

    Let’s keep an eye on Mr. Donaghue during the Concord Township Planning Commission meeting on Monday October 20 and the followup Supervisors meeting to decide the Beaver Valley development matter. Is he being fair during those proceedings within the scope of protecting the Township’s legal interests, or is he trying to influence the outcome? Presumably the Supervisors have an open mind until all the evidence is presented, so let’s make sure Mr. Donaghue acts in a way that allows for a full and fair hearing.

  2. ConcordVoter says:

    When you don’t like the message, attack the messenger.

    I’ll say it, Levin and his cohorts are trying to do through an ill-conceived and poorly executed ballot petition what they could not do in a fair election less than a year ago.

    Those who feel that their interests are served by rude interruptions and crass out bursts at public meetings are not helping their cause. If you think Donaghue or the supervisors have any interest in seeing the valley developed you are poorly misguided. They have a legal duty to review plans submitted by landowners. Let them all do their jobs.

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