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Borough Council Plans for Appointing Hahn's Replacement as Mayor

by on October 18, 2019 5:00 AM

State College Mayor Don Hahn is almost certain to step down from the position before the end of this year, and it will be up to borough council to decide who his replacement will be — as well as how that decision is reached.

Hahn, who took office as mayor in January 2018, announced in February that he would run for the magisterial district judgeship currently held by the retiring Carmine Prestia. He ran unopposed in May's primary and is the only candidate on the Democratic and Republican ballots in November's election.

He said in September that, assuming he is elected, he plans to submit his resignation to council on Dec. 16. The borough's home rule charter tasks council with appointing a replacement within 45 days of resignation, but does not otherwise set forth a process for doing so.

At Monday's borough council meeting, council President Evan Myers proposed a plan to reach an agreement on an interim mayor prior to Dec. 16 and conduct a formal vote at a meeting that night.

Myers suggested that any qualified borough resident interested in the position will have the opportunity "to submit a letter of interest describing their qualifications and reasons for their interest in serving in this role as mayor." He proposed a deadline of Nov. 6 to submit letters of interest.

He added that council would review the submissions at a public meeting and could also schedule a public meeting with the candidates to discuss their qualifications with council members.

"The home rule charter does not require... letters of interest, interviews and discussions... However I am proposing that we do this as part of the process," he said. "This all has to be done publicly."

Myers also proposed that council members-elect participate in the review process, though only the current members of council could vote for the interim mayor on Dec. 16.

Four council seats are up for election this year. Incumbents Jesse Barlow and Janet Engeman are on the ballot, along with Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Assistant Dean Deanna Behring, who was the leading vote-getter in the Democratic primary; former Borough Manager Peter Marshall, a Democrat who secured Democratic and Republican nominations; Penn State student Tom Daugherty, a Democrat who advanced to the general election with a Republican write-in nomination; Republican and former state Rep. Lynn Herman; and independent journalist and publisher Katherine Watt, who is running unaffiliated.

The goal, Myers said, is to reach a consensus on the new mayor by Dec. 2.

Residents will have an opportunity to comment on Myers' plan before council votes on proceeding with it at the Monday, Oct. 21 meeting.

Councilwoman Catherine Dauler, who has reached term limits and will leave council at the beginning of 2020, said she appreciated Myers' plan.

"I think this will bring a lot of clarity to the process, which is important. The public will be aware of all the decisions we are making and comments we may have," she said.

Councilman David Brown, whose term ends this year and who did not win a spot on the general election ballot, did not say he planned to submit himself for consideration. He did, however, say he was told that if an incumbent council member were to be a candidate for interim mayor, he or she could not vote for himself or herself. He asked why that was the case and how it was different than "if Donald Trump or anybody wanted to vote for himself or herself," in an election.

Borough Solicitor Terry Williams said it would be a conflict of interest.

"Donald Trump isn’t subject to the Pennsylvania conflict of interest statute, which talks about financial gain," Williams said. "Since the mayor in State College is paid, that would constitute a conflict of interest to vote on the replacement of the mayor if the person doing the voting was a candidate for office."

Whomever succeeds Hahn will serve out the remainder of his term as mayor, which concludes at the end of 2021. The home rule charter states that once a borough elected official has served in a role fpr 18 months, a person appointed to fill their vacancy will serve out the elective term. 

This won't be the first time borough council has appointed an interim mayor. Longtime Mayor Bill Welch died in September 2009 and council appointed Felicia Lewis as interim until Elizabeth Goreham won the position in that November's election.

The mayor of State College is the presiding officer of council and ceremonial head of municipal government. He or she does not vote upon any matter before council, but approves or vetoes ordinances passed by council.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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