Senators discuss removing West York mayor

Sean Philip Cotter

West York's council president on Monday applauded the fact that state senators were discussing removing borough Mayor Charles Wasko, who's been under fire over the past couple of weeks for his racist Facebook posts.

"I think it’s a good sign," said Shawn Mauck, the council president.

Wasko, who was elected mayor in 2013, has made several posts on Facebook this year that council members and community members took issue with. Two compared President Barack Obama and his family to apes, and one suggested Obama should be hanged with a noose. Another post featured a fictional black person saying that socialism is "when the white folks work every day so we can get all our governmental entitlement stuff for free."

The post with the noose appears to have been removed, but the others remain up on his public Facebook page.

West York Mayor Charles Wasko.

At a meeting  Oct. 3, after listening to residents largely stating that they wanted Wasko out, the West York borough council unanimously censured the mayor and advised the borough's solicitor to look for "any means possible" to remove him from office. Those motions came after a parade of locals spoke for an hour and a half, almost all calling the mayor's posts on Facebook racist and unacceptable.

Legislators speak out against West York mayor

Wasko has not answered repeated calls from The York Dispatch in the days since the paper broke the story two weeks ago. Wasko, who didn't attend the borough council meeting at which the council censured him, did post on Facebook two weeks ago that he won't be "politically correct."

State Senate: On Friday, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia, sent a letter to state Sen. Joe Scarnati, the body's president pro tempore, asking that Scarnati convene a special committee to look into the possibility that the Senate could remove Wasko.

To do this, Hughes pointed to the same little-used section of the state constitution that allowed the Senate in February to vote on the removal of then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who had refused to resign following criminal charges. In that case, the Senate failed to get the two-thirds of the body's vote necessary to remove Kane, who ultimately resigned after she was convicted of perjury in August.

Such a process is outlined in Article VI, Section 7 of the state constitution, which reads, in part: "All civil officers shall hold their offices on the condition that they behave themselves well while in office, and shall be removed on conviction of misbehavior in office or of any infamous crime. ... All civil officers elected by the people, except the governor, the lieutenant governor, members of the general assembly and judges of the courts of record, shall be removed by the governor for reasonable cause, after due notice and full hearing, on the address of two-thirds of the Senate."

In seeking Wasko's removal, Hughes wrote in the letter he has posted on his website, "one may legitimately ask whether his reprehensible reviews on race and religion permeate his daily decision making, including the decisions he is statutorily authorized to make under the borough code." For example, Wasko, as mayor, has some power over the day-to-day operation of the police department.

West York council, residents want mayor out

Mauck said Hughes' office, which didn't respond to a message from the Dispatch seeking comment on Monday, reached out to him last week to talk about what Hughes would say in the letter. Hughes, who's a member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, which has called on Wasko to resign, cited in his letter that the fact that the borough council unanimously voted last week to censure the mayor and call on him to resign.

Scarnati's office also didn't respond to a message seeking comment on Monday, which was Columbus Day.

Wasko and the police: Mauck said that borough officials haven't had much contact with Wasko lately, beyond sending him the censure resolution the body passed.

"He’s pretty much been AWOL," the council president said.

And that's fine with Mauck, who again  Monday called on the mayor to resign, saying it's "the easiest way to go forward."

But Wasko showed up at the borough office the Friday night after he came under fire for his posts, Mauck has said. Wasko was screaming, among other things, that he was suspending Acting Police Chief Matt Millsaps, according to Mauck, who called the mayor "unhinged."

There's an actual process to suspend officers that involves paperwork rather than shouted commands, Mauck said, so Millsaps' status never changed.

But, Mauck said, the mayor does have the power to temporarily suspend officers. If he had filled out the suspension paperwork, Wasko would have been able to suspend Millsaps for 10 days, after which point the council could reinstate him, Mauck said.

But that arrangement changed at the Oct. 3 borough council meeting, Mauck said, when the council passed a resolution approving the borough's civil service board approval of Millsaps' interim appointment. Because of that, the civil service board can immediately call a meeting if Wasko attempts to suspend Millsaps and unsuspend him, according to Mauck.

Councilwoman Shelley Metzler and residents Varlan Gibbs and Cherry Sweitzer comprise the board. Metzler has spoken against Wasko and supported Millsaps.

"If he would be suspended, civil service does have the ability to remove his discipline," Mauck said.

Wasko's position is up for election next year.

— Sean Cotter covers York City for The York Dispatch. Contact him or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.