Mayor Don Hahn will almost certainly leave his seat this year. What happens next?

Mayor Don Hahn listens to the public comment portion of a State College Borough Council meeting in April.
Mayor Don Hahn listens to the public comment portion of a State College Borough Council meeting in April. adrey@centredaily.com

With Mayor Don Hahn officially set to vacate his seat if elected magisterial district judge in November, State College Borough Council is considering a tight timeline in which to appoint an interim mayor to serve out the rest of his term.

Council President Evan Myers proposed a schedule at Monday night’s council meeting that would include discussion, candidate interviews, preliminary selection and a vote on the new interim mayor by council’s Dec. 16 meeting. At a meeting last month, Hahn said he would officially submit his resignation Dec. 16, if elected magisterial district judge to replace Judge Carmine Prestia, Jr. He is unopposed in the race.

Council has 45 days from his date of resignation to appoint an interim mayor, Myers said.

To streamline the process, Myers said, council could discuss the proposal at its Monday night voting meeting, and potentially vote on that process. If all council members agree, council could ask people interested in serving as interim mayor to submit letters of interest by the close of business on Nov. 6.

If council needs future discussion on the process, they could extend talks to the Oct. 25 work session, Myers said. By Nov. 8, council would begin discussing the candidates interested in serving as mayor at a public meeting. If additional discussion isn’t needed, council could hold public interviews on Nov. 18 and 19.

By Dec. 2, council should reach consensus on a candidate for mayor, and vote on the new interim mayor Dec. 16, said Myers.

Because of the tight timeline, current council members would be voting to appoint an interim mayor. However, Myers noted that council members-elect would be invited to attend and participate in discussions beginning Nov. 8, but not the vote.

There are four council seats up for re-election. Incumbents Jesse Barlow and Janet Engeman will be on the ballot in November, joining Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Assistant Dean Deanna Behring, former borough Manager Peter Marshall and former state representative Lynn Herman, the lone Republican candidate.

Council member David Brown, who did not win enough votes during the Democratic primary to land on the ballot, asked why an incumbent council member wanting to run for mayor would have to recuse themselves from voting. He used the example that President Trump can vote for himself in the election, so municipal leaders should be able to do the same.

“Donald Trump isn’t subject to Pennsylvania Conflict of Interest Statute which talks about financial gain,” said Terry Williams, borough solicitor, with a smile. Since the mayor of State College is paid a small stipend, he said, it would constitute a conflict of interest for a council member running for mayor to vote for themselves or any mayoral candidate.

Michael Black, Don Hahn and Ron Madrid ran for State College mayor in 2017. Hahn captured 54% of the vote, but plans to resign in December. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

State College Borough Planning Commission member Ron Madrid, who ran for mayor as an independent two years ago and captured 17% of the vote, said Wednesday he plans to file a letter of interest to be interim mayor.

“I think I would bring a more rounded, less parochial view on some of the things facing the borough,” he said in a phone interview.

Though the mayor has no legislative power, he said, he would try to represent a variety of viewpoints, help council meetings run efficiently and become an advocate for the municipality at the state level. For a community reeling from the fatal shooting of borough resident Osaze Osagie in March, he said, it’s more important than ever for the mayor to continue to “foster the healing process within the community.”

With problems like limited revenue generation facing State College, “the mayor has to be outspoken advocate with our state legislators, urging them to change the law to allow municipalities like ourselves to generate additional revenue,” he said.

Madrid said if he were appointed mayor, he would have to give up his seat on the planning commission.

Michael Black, a former mayoral candidate who garnered 28% of the vote in 2017, did not say whether he would file a letter of interest. But in an email, he said he welcomes the opportunity to “learn more how I can best continue to contribute to elevating the culture and vibrance of our home town.”

Though State College continues to see “intense pressures due in part to escalating growth,” he said, he is “very optimistic” for the future of the borough and Centre County.

“During these past two years I’ve been fortunate to focus on issues of the borough and county at large with my role in Leadership Centre County,” he said. “I continue to hear concerns of residents that deserve our full attention. I’m hearing from residents who want to be more involved, more engaged, and responsible for positive change. That is exciting and affirming.”

Council will discuss the timeline for selecting an interim mayor at its Monday night voting meeting at 7 p.m. in the State College Borough Building, where the public will have an opportunity to comment and ask questions.

Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.