Skerda narrows in on council appointee

Warren City Council has had a vacancy since Elissa Davis resigned in September.

At the October council meeting, council was at loggerheads over who to appoint and the majority needed to make the appointment proved elusive.

The responsibility then falls to the Warren County Court of Common Pleas.

President Judge Maureen Skerda essentially conducted interviews during a Thursday afternoon hearing.

A total of eight individuals had made application to the city in order to fill the vacancy.

Mayor Maurice Cashman testified during Thursday’s proceeding that council was asking Skerda to make the appointment from one of those eight.

Executive Secretary Teena Leary testified that two of the eight candidates addressed council at the October meeting – Scott Baxter and John Wortman and said that Wortman, Baxter and John Lewis had been nominated.

Wortman was dropped after one round of voting and that’s when the loggerheads set in.

Judge Skerda called each of the applicants forward for what amounted to brief interviews.

Chuck Gray told the court that she returned to Warren in 2005 and remembered a Warren that was quite different and decided to bring her skills and put them to use in the community. She said she has served on the Planning Commission and “loved the collegiality of it.” She said she consulted Davis and determined her “priorities are in line” with Davis, a fact she considered important given that Davis was elected to the position.

Michael Mahood told the court that it was “always a dream of mine to take part in public duty.” He said he works at the Rouse Estate and has no prior government experience.

Thomas Russell said he took an early retirement and has been “looking for opportunities to get involved” in the community. He described himself as a business leader and said he has a goal to impart the philosophy of getting more for less, suggesting he would relate “business concepts to running local government.” He said he served as general manager of Loranger Enterprises as well as Power Drives, Inc. He stressed the importance of stimulating private investment in Warren.

John Wortman said his “entire young life has been dedicated to service,” including with “distinction” as a junior council member. He said that he served as Speaker of the House for student government at Penn State and currently teaches civics and government. He said one of his strong points is that he has lived in “different places across the U.S.” and “allows me to take ideas from those locations” and bring them back to Warren.

John Lewis said he served four terms – 16 years – on council. He was defeated for re-election in 2017. Lewis said that he felt he presents the least amount of turnover on council with Davis’ resignation given his experience. Skerda asked him if his priorities were aligned with Davis and he said that they are “aligned that what benefits the City of Warren is what we should do.” He said he would listen to the people of the city to best suit what the city provides.

Colby Neukum said that he is a registered independent and advocates a pragmatic approach. He said he has no political experience but “wanted to take the opportunity to give back to the community.” He said he works in the mental health sector and “works well as a team” and stressed the importance of being able to work well with people with whom you may disagree.

Baxter was struck from the list because he wasn’t present.

“The court will not give his application any consideration on that basis,” she said.

Shoshanna Ochocki, who also applied, did not attend Thursday’s proceeding.

Skerda said that she would take the issue under advisement and make a decision on the appointment by Friday afternoon which would enable the individual to be sworn in at the next meeting of city council.