By Elizabeth Perry
A tense meeting of the Coraopolis Council ended with an argument between Manager Ray McCutcheon and Democratic Council Candidate Mike Harris.
Harris accused McCutcheon of being unethical for recommending his friend Mark Scholl be appointed to council and McCutcheon fired back.
“Mark Scholl would’ve been a better council member than you’ll ever be,” McCutcheon said.
Scholl had been nominated last month to replace Chad Kraynyk who resigned June 14. Kraynyk moved, and subsequently had to vacate the seat. Scholl tendered his resignation citing a conflict of interest with his firm.
At the Aug. 9 meeting, council voted unanimously to appoint Joseph Szabat for the third ward council seat once held by Scholl.
There was controversy surrounding Scholl’s July 12 appointment; Republican Candidate Olesia Johnston addressed the audience at the meeting saying she applied for the seat and was not contacted for consideration, then she accused the council of “cronyism.”
Scholl, who had not attended the July meeting, said in an interview McCutcheon was a friend who had approached him for the appointment and would not have considered taking the seat otherwise. McCutcheon disputes that Scholl’s appointment had been cronyism, because Scholl was a highly qualified candidate.
“The appointment is a political appointment, it has nothing to do with the public. Council gets to appoint whomever they feel is responsible,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon said there had been three people vying for Kraynyk’s empty seat at the time of Scholl’s appointment, but declined to name the third person. In an interview after the Aug. 9 meeting, he said Joseph Szabat was not the unnamed candidate, and declined to name the third person because he had not been chosen. He did not wish to discuss why Szabat was chosen and ended the interview.
As had happened with Scholl’s appointment, there was no public discussion of candidates prior to the vote to appoint Szabat and he was the sole nominee.
At the beginning of the meeting, attorney Richard F. Start read aloud an email written by Mayor Michael Dixon which raised questions about the timing of the appointment and concern that the Court of Common Pleas may have to appoint a candidate because of time constraints.
Dixon also wasn’t sure how Scholl could have been officially appointed without being sworn in. In the email Dixon also expressed frustration with the “complete radio silence from them for over a month” he’d received from the board members.
Start then read aloud his own email in response to the questions, stating that the board had 30 days to appoint someone, Scholl did not have to be sworn in by the mayor, and the board did nothing legally wrong in the appointment of Scholl.
Later in the meeting, Alison Marine was unanimously voted to take Kraynyk’s place as vice president of the council.
During citizen’s comments at the end of the meeting, Vance Street resident Danial Hickton asked the council about the appointments to the ward three seat since Kraynyk’s departure.
“There’s some kind of feeling I guess from the community that we don’t have a vote on who that next person is,” Hickton said.
McCutcheon said the seat is a temporary one that will be filled Jan. 1 after the November elections when the public will get their say.
After Hickton left the podium, Harris spoke and accused McCutcheon of “unethical behavior” for influencing the board to appoint Scholl.
“This council votes to employ the manager and determines his wages, so I would think that he should not be involved in a vacancy selection,” Harris said.
McCutcheon rose from his seat at the accusation and the two spoke over one another. He accused Harris of badmouthing him on Facebook.
“You better watch yourself,” McCutcheon said.
“What are you going to do, beat me up?”
“No, but you’re wrong,” McCutcheon said.
The exchange was broken up by the council adjourning the meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, Dixon said he’d met Szabat once and he was “a nice man.” Szabat’s wife, Elizabeth Nagle is a veterinarian and according to the Allegheny Real Estate Portal, they’ve owned their current home in Coraopolis since 1988. Szabat also is a HAM radio enthusiast.