Legislators speak out against West York mayor

David Weissman, 505-5431/@DispatchDavid
  • West York council exploring options to remove Mayor Charles Wasko after racist Facebook posts.
  • A section of state constitution allows elected officials to be removed for "reasonable cause."
  • Removal, by governor, would require 2/3 state Senate vote. Vote last used with AG Kathleen Kane.

A seldom-used section of the state constitution could be invoked for second time this year if state legislators decide to explore removing West York's mayor from office.

West York Mayor Charles Wasko.

West York Borough Council members and residents have called on Mayor Charles Wasko to resign in light of public Facebook posts that have been called racist.

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."

At its meeting Monday night, the Borough Council voted unanimously to censure the mayor and advised the borough's solicitor to look for "any means possible" to remove him from office.

The borough's solicitor, Mieke Driscoll, did not return a voicemail requesting an update on her progress with regards to this request.

Borough Council president Shawn Mauck has noted that the council doesn't have the power to force the mayor to resign.

Kane: But Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf — who has also called on Wasko to resign — noted that Wasko can be ousted if it's deemed that there's "due cause" for Wasko's removal and two-thirds of the state Senate votes in favor of it.

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."

This process was most recently invoked when the Senate was debating whether to remove Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office in February due to her suspended law license and pending perjury trial.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Senate vote fell four votes short of reaching two-thirds, but before that, the process was last used in 1891, according to Associated Press reports.

Kane, the first woman and Democrat elected to the office, ultimately resigned after she was convicted in August.

Legislators weigh in: State Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin County, was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote in favor of Kane's removal.

He said if the Senate held a similar vote on Wasko, he would vote to remove him also.

"Serving in public office is an honor and a privilege, not a right," Teplitz said. "Certain behavior, including racist rants on social media, should cause you to forfeit that right, especially if you show no remorse or regret."

Wasko has not responded to multiple calls to his home since last week.

In response to a Facebook friend’s reference to the controversy, the mayor wrote: "Sorry, But I will not be politically correct, I say what is on my mind and what I believe in, I say what people think but are afraid to upset the liberal media and crooked politicians ... there will be more to come from me."

In an on-camera interview with ABC27 News, Wasko said: "The racist stuff, yeah I’ll admit, I did that, and I don’t care what people label me as. But I will bring everything out, and there will be more resignations than mine, believe me.”

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said the situation definitely warrants at least an investigation on the part of state Legislature.

Stan Saylor

"If he truly is a racist, then yes (he should be removed from office)," Saylor said.  "I'm not a fan of Obama, but I'm not going to call him a monkey. I have a problem with that."

Both Saylor and Teplitz clarified that it's important to give Wasko due process if the Senate does decide to consider his removal.

Sen. Joe Scarnati, president of the state Senate, had appointed a bipartisan special committee to discuss potential action toward Kane's removal, Teplitz said.

"(Wasko) needs to come forward at some point and explain his actions," Saylor said. "It's important that everyone has their day in court."

Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County, said she wouldn't make a statement regarding a hypothetical vote on Wasko's removal, but she thought such a decision should come from the legislators overseeing his district.

State Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County

Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, and Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, whose jurisdictions include West York, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Republican Joel Sears, of Spring Garden Township, and Democrat Carol Hill-Evans, York City Council president, are on the ballot to take over Schreiber's seat.

Sears said the state Legislature should explore every legal option available to remove Wasko from office.

"This guy is incapable of executing his duties in office; there's no way he could remain unbiased in hiring and firing decisions with the police department," he said, referring to the fact that the mayor has some input into the day-to-day operations of the police department.

Sears said he believes Wasko should apologize, but he's not sure it would do any good at this point.

Joels Sears is a Republican running in the 95th state House District.

"How can you trust this guy?" Sears asked.

Walking into her debate with Sears Thursday night, Hill-Evans elected not to comment on the subject.

Vance said she doesn't like the idea of state legislators intervening in a local government matter, but Sears and Saylor both said that something needs to be done.

"What if it was the mayor of Pittsburgh or Philadelphia?" Sears asked. "He's done something that harms all of us."

Saylor said it would set a good precedent that would show that Pennsylvania won't tolerate racism from its public officials.

Sears, Saylor and Teplitz all expressed a desire to defend the First Amendment right to free speech but said public officials need to be held to a higher standard.

"We can't tell him how to think or who to invite into his home," Sears said. "But there are consequences for actions."

Reporter Sean Philip Cotter contributed to this story.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.