City treasurer and council

Mike Tony | Herald-Standard

Uniontown City Treasurer Antoinette Hodge asked for a fireproof safe for her office and argued in favor of the city enrolling in the Pennsylvania Municipal League. Council voted against both measures but did approve her enrollment into the Pennsylvania State Tax Collectors’ Association.

Uniontown’s new city treasurer made several requests of city council at its most recent meeting, a month after she filed a federal lawsuit alleging that city officials conspired to keep her from taking office because she is black.

Council, however, did not grant some of the requests, citing affordability concerns.

City Treasurer Antoinette Hodge asked for a fireproof safe for her office and gave council several options to choose from, recommending that council purchase a $1,484 safe.

Council, though, did not support motions to purchase two different safes, both Hodge’s recommendation and a cheaper option.

Hodge reported that the current safe is not fireproof.

“If the building caught fire, we would lose everything in there,” Hodge said.

She also said that the spinner on the safe is broken and that a replacement for the lock is no longer available.

“I’m not worried about a fire as much as I’m worried about the locking mechanism itself,” council member Joby Palumbo said. “You can’t replace that.”

Council member Joe Czuchan shared Palumbo’s concern about the safe lock but not Hodge’s concern about being prone to fire loss.

“The safe that’s in there is pretty thick,” Czuchan said. “I don’t think we would lose anything if the building caught on fire.”

“This is the first I’ve heard of having any issues with the safe. I haven’t heard anything about it the last two years,” said council member Martin Gatti, who took his council seat in 2018.

Council voted 3-2 against the $1,484 safe, with Palumbo and Mayor Bill Gerke casting the minority tallies and Gatti, Czuchan and Steve Visocky voting against the move.

Czuchan indicated he favored buying an $860 safe because it was cheaper, but Hodge said that that option would require bolting that would cost an additional $600 to $700.

“It covers everything and we don’t have to worry about it being carried out the building,” Hodge said of the safe that council had just voted against purchasing. “The other one, we’ve still got to pay for the bolting. You’re looking at a security issue.”

Council voted 3-2 against the $860 safe as well, with Palumbo joining Gatti and Visocky in votes against it while Czuchan and Gerke cast tallies in favor.

Hodge last month filed a lawsuit against the city, Gatti and City Clerk Kim Marshall, alleging that they conspired to prevent her from taking office as city treasurer and targeted her because she is black. Gatti and Marshall have vehemently denied the allegations. A judge ordered those named in the suit to file an answer to the complaint by March 13.

Also at their monthly meeting, council balked at the cost of enrolling into the Pennsylvania Municipal League, voting 3-1 against doing so after Palumbo left the meeting, with only Gerke supporting the measure.

“(With) everything going on right now, we don’t need an extra expense,” Visocky said.

After council’s vote, Hodge argued in favor of enrolling into the league, which serves 114 direct members who represent more than 3.8 million Pennsylvanians, including the cities of Washington and Monongahela.

First-year dues for totaling $3,319 the city would have been waived, and the city would have had to pay a total of $3,648 to keep league membership through 2024, Hodge said after the meeting.

Hodge told council that the league provides training for city office staff and council members. According to its website, the league’s municipal services include state and federal legislative advocacy, education and training certification programs, membership research and inquiries, consulting-based programs and group insurance trusts.

In a 4-0 vote, council authorized Hodge to enroll in the Pennsylvania State Tax Collectors’ Association at a cost of $70 for annual membership. Hodge said the measure would enable training for her and other city officials.

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