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Community members rebuke planning seat appointment

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Dianne Peeling of Clinton Township expresses her disapointment on Linda Sosniak not being appointed to the planning commission during the public comment portion of the Lycoming County Commissioners planning session Tuesday morning in the city.

Community members from across Lycoming County filled the commissioners board room in Executive Plaza Tuesday, pleading for the commissioners to reconsider a decision made last week to appoint Joseph L. Reighard to the planning commission in place of Linda Sosniak.

Sosniak, the Democratic candidate for the 84th House of Representative’s seat in November’s election who was defeated by incumbent state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, and a Picture Rocks borough council member with a history in disaster coordination, was recommended to replace Herman Logue for a four-year term on the commission according to the Dec. 4 informational meeting agenda.

However, the Dec. 6 action meeting agenda instead recommended Reighard, who was approved by a 2-1 vote. Commissioner Rick Mirabito voted no.

Dozens decried the approval Tuesday, with many calling the commissioners’ decision “arbitrary and capricious.”

The legal phrase refers to a decision made that does not seem logical, given the facts.

“When a judge makes a decision without reasonable grounds or adequate consideration of the circumstances, it is said to be arbitrary and capricious and can be invalidated,” according to USLegal’s website.

“I’m angry with the Board of Commissioners. You arbitrarily and capriciously removed her name from the agenda at the last minute,” said Morgan Allyn, of Williamsport. “We expect more out of you. Women are 51 percent of the population of this county and we should be at every table that you have. We should be part of government. We want you to rescind your decision.”

“In the eastern part of the county, we have kind of a disconnect from the county seat. It meant a lot to us when we found out that Linda was going to be recommended for a seat on the planning commission because one of our own was going to be representing us here,” said Allison Rupert, of Hughesville. “She’s exceptionally qualified, she went through the proper procedures. We feel that she was arbitrarily passed over. We’ve heard the commissioners didn’t know her — we think it’s the commissioners’ job to get to know her.”

Quickly after the last member of the public spoke, Mirabito made a motion to rescind the decision made Dec. 6 and instead voted to appoint Sosniak. His motion died for lack of a second.

“It seemed like it was orchestrated,” said Commissioner Jack McKernan.

Mirabito’s motion died for lack of a second.

“Even if the three of us had a disagreement, the decision should not have been made privately,” Mirabito said, referring to Reighard replacing Sosniak on last week’s agenda. “The decision should have been made at a public meeting where both names were put on the agenda and a discussion was had.”

Although Planning Director Kurt Hausammann Jr. recommended Sosniak, he told the commissioners Reighard also was a qualified applicant, Hausammann clarified Tuesday.

Reighard is a Gamble Township supervisor, president of the County Association of Township Officials and is very involved in the community. Reighard also was employed by Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. for over 30 years. Logue is Hawbaker’s eastern region vice president.

The commissioners are not required to follow his recommendations, nor have they always done so, Hausammann added.

“I actually said at the briefing session that we have two qualified candidates for the position. I went on to say that we don’t have a woman on the board at this time, and I thought that would be good, but I fully understand that the decision is that of the Board of Commissioners, not mine,” he said.

The board, made up of nine members, has been all-male for at least the past four years, Mirabito said last week.

In addition to being within their rights to appoint Reighard over Sosniak, Commissioner Tony Mussare added that he knows Reighard’s professional background and visions.

“Our planning department is set up so that I feel that they’re going to give us the best chance of economic development that we can get,” Mussare said. “I know Joe … I can’t say personally, but I’ve known Joe and his involvement. My whole point in appointing Joe Reighard is that I knew he was aligned in what I’d like to see in the county.”

“You just admitted that you always vote for people who think like you,” someone shouted in response.

“We get elected because of what we believe in,” Mussare replied.

Reighard’s appointment had been discussed over the past few months, Mussare said. He was surprised Hausammann did not interview Reighard, and was surprised again to see Sosniak as the recommendation on the Dec. 4 agenda, he said.

Then, he was shocked to find his comments apologizing and explaining the situation to Sosniak on Dec. 6 were not reflected in the meeting minutes, he said.

“I wondered, why wasn’t he interviewed? I question why my statements weren’t in the minutes. I question why, in Tuesday’s meeting, I saw Linda Sosniak’s name on there when I knew she was not my candidate,” Mussare said. “This is not about Linda. There is something going on much more than her being removed at the last minute. And I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

Hausammann said he did not formally interview Reighard because he was waiting on an application to come from the commissioners, but he did confirm Reighard’s interest in serving on the planning commission.

Mirabito said he hopes his colleagues will reconsider in time for Thursday’s meeting.

“My decision’s not going to change — I would never cower to intimidation, never,” Mussare said. “(Joe Reighard and I) believe in the same things. Why would I put someone on the board who I don’t know believes in that?”

The next meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in Executive Plaza. The commissioners intend to vote on the 2019 budget.

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