The respective partisan caucuses of Allegheny County Council will soon be meeting to select members to fill the two vacancies caused by Council members who vacated their seats in order to run for the office of County Chief Executive. The Home Rule Charter of the County, in essence the local “Constitution”, spells out how vacancies on Council have to be filled (Article III, Section 9b) and that Council members who want to run for another office must first resign their seat (Article III, Section 6b). Therefore, by all indications we have an instance of the Charter being followed as written.
As home rule government begins its second decade in Allegheny County-the effective date of the Home Rule Charter was January 1, 2000-taxpayers and residents of the County have several big issues coming at them related to their government.
The Mayor of Pittsburgh, members of Pittsburgh City Council, and all City appointees do it; so too do the members of Allegheny County’s personnel board; county officials in Erie County also do it; but whether deliberate or because of an oversight, the Allegheny County Executive and members of County Council do not.
Section 709 of the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter outlines the oath of office for every elected official and appointee as the following: "I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of this state and the charter of this city and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of office to the best of my ability".
So how do we reconcile the obligations of that oath with the statements of one of the most senior members of Council, soon to be a magisterial judge of the Commonwealth, who said this of a senior citizen tax relief program debated yesterday in Council: "So it’s not in compliance with state law. Big deal…I don’t give a damn if [the tax break] is illegal or unconstitutional if it supports the poor people of the city of Pittsburgh."
Stunning: not only in light of the fact that the member is in direct violation of the oath he vowed to uphold, but for the fact that soon the member will be hearing cases involving "most summary offenses, most preliminary hearings, certain DUI cases, certain third-degree misdemeanors and some ordinance violations, landlord/tenant cases and some general civil claims subject to financial limits" according to one description of the responsibility of a magisterial judge. Imagine if a landlord in the City fails to meet state safety requirements or doesn’t have sprinklers and claims it is because they are too expensive; would that pass muster? Or what if a person down on his luck decided to steal to support his family?
What will be the deciding factor in his rulings: the law and the Constitution, or the financial needs of the parties in front of the bench?