Amazingly, this cash-strapped and over-worked DA nevertheless intends to pervert the public will, pursuing quo warranto proceedings against Northampton County Council member Ron Angle. Although Ron was elected November 3rd to the Bangor School Board by people who know he sits on County Council, Morganelli is going to push Angle off County Council, or so he thinks. His two-page letter to Angle is below.
Here's what he's really saying. "Payback's a bitch, Ron. You made me look bad, so now I'm going to remove you from office, something we could never do in an election." Now to make things look good and give himself some political cover, he's sent a similar letter to a Wilson Borough Council member elected to Wilson's School Board. But don't kid yourself. His target is Angle.
Morganelli bases his supposed opinion on provisions of a School Code enacted before there even was a Home Rule Charter, as well as a provision in the Home Rule Charter that the state supremes have declared unconstitutional. Let me repeat. Angle is Morganelli's real target. His threat is a nothing more than a thinly disguised, political hit job.
Morganelli's past practice
In 1999, when Ron Angle was first elected to County Council, he was a Bangor School Board member. Council Democrats sought Angle's ouster then, and Morganelli consented to a lawsuit filed by Council. But he refused to use the power of his office himself, choosing to stay away from a political question. Two years later, when it appeared that some members of the General Purpose Authority had been illegally appointed, Morganelli again consented to a quo warranto. But as before, he stayed out of the fight. Then in 2006, when Hellertown Borough Council President Tony Branco was appointed to County Council, Morganelli had no objection to this Democrat. In fact, the DA later made robo calls for him. Last year, when Bangor Mayor Joe Capozzolo was appointed to succeed the late Wayne Grube, Morganelli voiced no concerns.
Given his past practice, why this sudden change of heart? I believe there are three reasons, none of which has anything to do with the law.
1. Morganelli wants to prevent Angle's election as Council President.
If this matter ever goes to Court, Morganelli will lose. But Morganelli has decided to grandstand on this issue now, six weeks before Angle can even be sworn into office. At the same time he was sending this letter to Angle, he was forwarding copies to the press. He's trying his case there, where he has a better chance at success.
His goal is to influence the election of Council President. With a 7-2 Republican majority, Angle is in a very good position to be elected Council president. Morganelli, a hardened Democrat, has seen both Northampton County's bench and Council go Republican. Angle and County Executive Stoffa, whose interest is government and not partisan politics, are on the cusp of making some significant changes in the County, from a downsizing of Gracedale to a relocation of county offices to a treatment center that actually tries to prevent recidivism.
Morganelli, unlike Stoffa, is very much a political animal, and his protege is the very unpopular Lamont McClure. They are both losing their grip on political power, and need to weaken a Republican-controlled Council. Since an Angle Council Presidency is likely to succeed, they want to remove that possibility. Publicizing the DA's threat will cast doubts about Angle, making him less palatable to his fellow Republicans.
2. Nobody else will do it.
County Council, having already appointed two people who serve in other municipal governments to Council seats, has effectively taken themselves out of this game. They are in no position to raise the proscription in the Home Rule Charter, which then Solicitor Leonard Zito ruled unconstitutional. And they have no standing to raise the prohibition in the School Code.
How about Bangor School Board? On Monday night, they went into executive session over the Angle issue, and decided to waste no taxpayer dollars on what essentially amounts to a fool's errand.
That pretty much leaves Morganelli to play the fool. He's willing to take that risk because he has another reason for wanting to hurt Angle.
3. Payback's a Bitch
When political consultant Tom "Scissorhands" Severson was convicted by a jury for his bizarre and threatening behavior towards Ron Angle during a funeral mass, DA John Morganelli assumed the role of defense counsel, trying his best to downplay the reality that his friend and political consultant is now a criminal. Things got worse. Severson has been charged with deceptive campaign practices, and a statewide grand jury has extended its investigation into Morganelli puppet Lamont McClure. Morganelli has at best been asleep at the switch. At the worst, he may soon find himself under the magnifying glass.
He has one person to thank, more than any other. Ron Angle.
The Northampton County Bulldog has insisted for years that Severson is crooked. Morganelli studiously avoided these complaints until the Attorney General himself began to pay attention. The subsequent prosecution and investigation into deceptive Northampton County campaign practices is really an indictment of Morganelli, who unleashed Severson far too often.
Severson and Morganelli go back at least to 1991, when Severson ran John's campaign against then incumbent DA Don Corriere. That race, incidentally, turned nasty.
Morganelli has continued to use Severson and more importantly, has convinced others to use him as well, building up a little fiefdom in the process. These allies include former first assistant DA Paula Roscioli, who used Severson's services when she ran for judge, and won. After Scissorhands was charged in the funeral fracas, Morganelli used him in his own, unsuccessful, AG race. That support even continued after it became known that Severson was the subject of a statewide grand jury.
In his eighteen years as DA, I can't think of a single elections law prosecution. Severson had a green light to run wild, and did. Morganelli created a monster.
Morganelli refused to lift a finger when Severson began an anonymous sleaze campaign against local magisterial candidate Brian Monahan in Spring '08. He remained silent in July '08, when Severson started push polling against county councilman Ron Angle, even though that expense appears nowhere on any campaign finance report, even as an in-kind corporate contribution. When anonymous robo calls began in earnest against council candidates Angle and Peg Ferraro, Morganelli was MIA, even though campaign finance reports fail to reflect the amount of money being spent. In fact, he was working against Ferraro.
Now that Severson is being prosecuted and his political allies are under scrutiny, Morganelli has had a sudden change of heart about his personal involvement in quo warranto. You see, notwithstanding sleaze campaigns consisting of anonymous robo calls and vicious Severson-orchestrated mailers, Morganelli and company have failed to remove Angle at the polls. So now he'll attempt to replace democracy with litigation.
Why Morganelli Will Fail
No court is ever anxious to upset the will of the people. Despite the games that Severson and Morganelli play with elections, majority still rules. Judges will only negate an election result if the law is clear. And when it comes to a Home Rule Charter form of government, it's about as clear as the Delaware after three days of rain.
The Home Rule Charter proscription on which Morganelli relies has been found unconstitutional, for one thing. Morganelli himself notes that different lawyers reach different conclusions. The state supreme court has ruled that only the state legislature, and not any Home Rule Charter, can set forth the reasons for removing an elected official.
But how about that School Code prohibition? Well, that was adopted long before home rule government even existed. Counties were then appointing members to County School Boards. It applies to "county commissioners", who under the older form of government, have a mix of legislative and executive functions. They bear no similarity to the council members or commissioners in home rule governments.
When Morganelli's personal and political motivations are spelled out, and they will be, judges will take an even dimmer view of this waste of prosecutorial resources. Ironically, Morganelli himself has previously determined he is too biased to investigate or prosecute Severson. So how can he then prosecute Severson's victim, even in a civil matter?
Morganelli denies this is personal. Bullshit. I saw him the day Severson was found guilty. Instead of following the law, Morganelli is pursuing a political and personal vendetta, being urged on by McClure.