High court rules for Concord First

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on July 20 overturned lower court decisions that kept a referendum off last November’s ballot in Concord Township.

That referendum would have asked Concord voters whether or not they wanted the township to change from township of the second class to township of the first class.

Citizens group Concord First held a petition drive last summer to get the necessary signatures for the question to be put on the ballot. The petition needed 582 signatures — 5 percent of the 11,640 registered voters — and petitioners gathered 994 signatures.

The group filed the petition with the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas on July 28, 2014, but township Supervisors’ Chairman Dominic Pileggi and others, including the Delaware County Board of Elections, challenged the petition on Aug. 6.

On Aug. 14, a Common Pleas Court judge ruled in favor of the challenge and denied the petition for the referendum. Concord First’s Colette Brown appealed that decision to Commonwealth Court, which on Sept. 26, upheld the lower court decision.

Brown then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

At issue has been the interpretation of a section of state code. That section, 53 P.S. § 55207 reads:

“At the first general or municipal election occurring, at least ninety days after the ascertainment, by special enrollment or from the last preceding United States census, that any township of the second class has a population of at least three hundred inhabitants to the square mile, and after a petition signed by at least five per centum of the registered voters of the township has been filed in the quarter sessions court, the question of whether such township of the second class shall become a township of the first class shall be submitted to the voters of the township. . .”

The question before the court was whether that section means the referendum would go on the ballot at the first election after only the census or at an election after both the census and the petition.

Common Pleas and Commonwealth court opinions interpreted the code to mean the question could go on the ballot only at the first election 90 days after the census.

However, the Supreme Court agreed with Brown.

In an opinion written by Justice Correale F. Stevens, with Justices J. Michael Eakin and Max Baer joining, the court said: “…[W]e hold that pursuant to 53 P.S. § 55207, second- to first-class township referendum questions shall be submitted to voters at the first general or municipal election occurring at least ninety days after fulfilling both the population density ascertainment and petition signature filing requirements as set forth in the statute. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the Commonwealth Court and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Dissenting were Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor and Justice Debra McCloskey Todd.

Saylor wrote in his dissent that he agrees with the Commonwealth and Common Pleas court decisions. He said the section in question “is most readily read as conveying an intention to require that a referendum proceed within a time period which is reasonably contemporaneous with ascertainment. Thus, I would hold submission of a ballot question under the statute is appropriate only at the first general or municipal election occurring at least ninety days after a specified form of ascertainment demonstrates that the population of a second-class township meets the statutory threshold.”

Brown was not immediately available for comment.

The full majority opinion may be found here.

The minority opinion can be found here.

 

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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