After several meetings filled with rancor and disagreement, members of State College Borough Council voted 5-2 to table a set of controversial guidelines for appointing an interim mayor.
In the interest of capturing more potential applicants, council also voted to extend the deadline for letters of interest for mayor to 11:59 p.m. Monday. Borough offices will be closed that day in observance of Veterans Day.
Mayor Don Hahn submitted his letter of resignation Wednesday morning, which will go into effect at 5 p.m. Dec. 16, said Council President Evan Myers. Hahn ran for magisterial district judge unopposed to fill the seat of retiring Judge Carmine Prestia Jr., garnering 1,932 votes in Tuesday’s election, according to unofficial totals.
The search for Hahn’s replacement led to discord among council members after Councilwoman Catherine Dauler proposed a set of guidelines for council to consider that included provisions to not select actively employed Penn State employees, developers, those without local government experience and those intending to run for mayor in 2021.
Penn State President Eric Barron even weighed in on the issue, urging council members in a letter not to adopt the guideline that would exclude Penn State employees.
At Wednesday’s special meeting, council discussed the guidelines for more than an hour and appeared split once again on what to include and whether to even vote on them.
“I do not expect, or really ever did expect that we would adopt these formally,” said Dauler. “I wanted these guidelines to be suggestions for us to use as we wished when we consider candidates for mayor.”
Dauler read parts of a letter Hahn submitted to council early Tuesday morning, in which he suggested keeping six guidelines, amending one on supporting the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, striking the Penn State employee and developer exemption and adding two more to focus on environment and diversity and inclusion. She said she generally agreed with his recommendations.
Over the course of discussion, most members of council who had previously supported all the guidelines, like councilwoman Janet Engeman and councilman David Brown, said they would be OK to strike the Penn State employee and developer exemptions from the guidelines.
But Brown also took his comment period to indirectly blast council members Daniel Murphy, Jesse Barlow and Myers — and some members of the public — whom he called “grandstanding opportunists” for reminding him “how quickly the effort and process to discuss these (guidelines) has been hijacked and manipulated, redirected and transformed ... into something ugly and nasty.”
Referring presumably to the audience and public comment period at last Wednesday’s meeting, in which some opponents of the guidelines snapped in agreement with speakers, Brown said that, “growling in a cadre of clapping and snapping collaborators, some rather debasing and inflammatory labels have been hurled again and again at those perceived as favorable to even considering the guidelines.”
Brown said he was called “racist,” “discriminatory,” “biased in favor of all white governance,” “against immigrants,” “patronizing” and more for originally supporting the guidelines. That language and behavior used, he said, is a “shamefully manipulative tool” for certain members of the public and council to select a candidate they favor.
Councilwoman Theresa Lafer also took aim at last week’s council audience and guideline opponents, calling their behavior “inappropriate” and saying, “I do care that you play ‘snap, snap,’ this isn’t a goddamn comedy club.” She stood by her conviction that a high-ranking Penn State administrator or decision-maker should not be mayor because that person would not be able to adequately balance their employment interests with those of the borough.
Councilwoman-elect Deanna Behring, who garnered the most votes for council in the municipal election on Tuesday, said Wednesday that Brown’s “aggressive” comments “saddened” her, because she felt council was moving toward a “collegial discussion” of how to appoint an interim mayor.
Instead of aiding the process, publishing public suggested guidelines hindered it, she said, by making discussion with the community “difficult.” She urged council to continue valuing creativity, diversity of thought, an inclusive vision and partnership-building skills in future mayoral candidates. Councilman-elect Peter Marshall did not attend the meeting, and declined to comment on the mayor discussion by phone, citing his unfamiliarity with the matter.
Barlow, who made the motion to table the guidelines, said he did so because no other member of council had taken action. He said he wasn’t sure it was going to work, but “it seemed like the right thing to do at the moment.”
Engeman, Barlow, Myers, Murphy and Dauler voted in favor of tabling the guidelines, and Brown and Lafer voted against. Tabling the motion stifled the opportunity for discussion and public comment, though Myers allowed public comment after the vote was taken. Later in the meeting, all council members voted to extend the application deadline for mayor letter of interest.
It’s unlikely council will revisit the guidelines, since a majority would be needed to get the guidelines back on the agenda, Barlow said.
“This discussion has drained so much energy from all of us that we don’t want to go back to it,” he said.