One appointment made, others challenged

Mike Tony | Herald-Standard

Uniontown Mayor Bill Gerke, pictured, appointed Matt George to the city redevelopment authority board last week after reading a letter signed by authority Chair Paul Palya asking him to appoint someone to replace Harry Fike, who has been frequently absent from meetings. The letter did not recognize two appointments made by outgoing Mayor Ed Fike prior to him leaving office.

When the Uniontown Redevelopment Authority board meets today, they may find themselves with more appointees than seats.

Outgoing Mayor Ed Fike appointed two new members to the board late last month after council’s Dec. 23 meeting: former city council member Jared Billy and Richard Ringer, operator of 7 West South Street Tavern & Grille downtown.

Billy and Ringer were to succeed Antoinette Hodge and Dr. Kurt Sturdevant.

But at council’s first meeting of 2020, new Mayor Bill Gerke read a letter signed by redevelopment authority board Chair Paul Palya that did not recognize those appointments, meaning he believed Hodge and Sturdevant remained on the board. Palya also asked Gerke to remove board member Harry Fike. Palya contended Harry Fike, brother of the former mayor, didn’t attend most of the authority’s meetings since his January 2018 appointment.

Gerke obliged and appointed Matt George of MountainCreek Properties to the board. George was in attendance and accepted the appointment.

When Ed Fike read a letter of interest from Billy at the Dec. 23 meeting, Palya objected because, he said, the board had no vacancies. Ed Fike, however, made the appointments after the meeting.

While the terms of both Hodge and Sturdevant are expired, Hodge’s in 2018 and Sturdevant’s in 2019, state law allowed to them to stay on the board for another five-year term because they weren’t replaced within 90 days, Palya claimed at the meeting.

However, the Urban Redevelopment Law does not set a specific time limit on filling vacancies, stating only that any vacancies be filled “promptly.” It also states that authority members hold office until their replacement is appointed.

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said that Ed Fike should have made the appointments of Billy and Ringer at a public meeting “from a good government and transparency perspective.”

She noted the state’s Sunshine Act requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business at public meetings. However, since the Sunshine Act applies to the deliberation and official action of a quorum, Melewsky added that mayoral appointments are “not a clear fit” with the open meetings law.

The authority meets today at 4 p.m. at City Hall.

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