Lower Saucon Township Council will hold a special meeting this Friday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m., the township announced Tuesday.
According to a draft meeting agenda, the purpose of the meeting is so council can have a “discussion relative to the appointment to fill (a) vacancy on the council pursuant to the court order filed on Feb. 19, 2020.”
The court order referenced in the agenda item is one that was issued by Luzerne County judge Joseph Augello, who in it appointed township resident and former council candidate Kristen Stauffer to fill a two-year vacancy on Lower Saucon Township Council. The vacancy was created when Stauffer’s husband, former township councilman and attorney Ryan Stauffer, resigned in November to accept a job with Northampton County.
Lower Saucon Township Council was unable to fill the vacancy created by Ryan Stauffer’s resignation when its members deadlocked on two nominations in late December.
According to the Lower Saucon Township code of ordinances, when council is unable to make an appointment to fill a vacancy, that duty becomes the responsibility of the court:
If, by reason of a tie vote or otherwise, such vacancy shall not have been filled by the remaining members of the Council within the time as limited herein, the Court of Common Pleas, upon the petition of 10 or more qualified voters, shall fill such vacancy by the appointment of a qualified person for the portion of the unexpired term as above provided. (Art. III, 5-8 Council, B. Number, election, terms and qualifications of Council members.)
Thus, the matter became the jurisdiction of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas.
An out-of-county judge was subsequently appointed to hear the case, due to Ryan Stauffer’s employment with Northampton County.
The court then accepted signed petitions from four residents who sought to fill the seat: Kristen Stauffer, former township councilwoman Donna Louder, business owner David Jauregui and attorney Tom Carocci.
Carocci withdrew his petition to fill the Lower Saucon Township Council seat in early January, and was subsequently appointed to fill a different two-year vacancy on council. The other three applicants testified at a Feb. 10 hearing before Augello held at the county courthouse in Easton.
Augello filed his order naming Kristen Stauffer to the seat Feb. 19, and she was sworn in to office by Judge Abe Kassis that evening at what was expected to be a regular township council meeting. The meeting, however, wasn’t held because three council members were absent from it, and meetings require a quorum (at least three members must be present).
Why there is apparently now a need for Lower Saucon Township Council to discuss the court ruling that resulted in Kristen Stauffer’s appointment to council remains unclear.
Over the past three months, the council has been given legal advice pertaining to the vacancy appointment process by its solicitor, Linc Treadwell.
Stauffer was represented in her petition case by Easton attorney Theresa Hogan.
Friday’s special meeting will be held in Lower Saucon Town Hall, 3700 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bethlehem, Pa. It is open to the public.