By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Coup changes leadership in Mt. Oliver Boro


Cassidy in, Cornelius out in leading borough council

Mount Oliver Borough Council President Don Cornelius lost control of last week's monthly business meeting of council. Then he lost control of the body in a late-night coup March 19 in which he was replaced by James Cassidy as council president. Mr. Cassidy had served as council vice-president for the previous 14 months.

The meeting was punctuated by more than two hours of public hearings, loud outbursts and demands by borough residents and business owners for more information about several sensitive issues.

The tone of the contentious meeting was set when former councilman Dennis Obeldobel used the public-hearing portion of the meeting to ask council to sign a contract extending Police Chief Frank Mosesso's service. Recently, the extension has been a bone of contention among residents and business owners in Mount Oliver and the borough's council. The chief's contract is set to expire Dec. 31, 2007.

Council members say there was nothing unusual in not opening negotiations until after June 30. They claim that is the borough's customary practice for all contract extensions of department heads. They indicated that negotiations usually only begin six months before the expiration date of a contract.

However, Chief Mosesso has already publicly indicated that he has offered to extend his contract beyond this year at a salary freeze. Several members stressed that it would NOT be appropriate to renew the contract until a performance-review is conducted. Several council members said they are satisfied with the chief's job performance, but added that the situation could change in the coming months.

Mr. Cornelius began losing control of the meeting when Mr. Obeldobel asked for a motion to extend the chief's contract and called for a “role call” from the floor. The borough's newest council person, Kelly Prilla, was visibly disturbed by the proceedings and repeatedly asked, “Is this the way we conduct business?”

The motion was defeated 4-3 although Mr. Obeldobel had more than 20 residents raise a printed handout in the air calling for the contract extension just before the vote took place. The residents raised the handout, under Mr. Obeldobel's request, as a show of support for Chief Mosesso.

Council members James Caylor, Christine Brendel and Mr. Cassidy voted to accept the motion.

Ms. Prilla and council member John Smith both voted no, adding they did not want their hands “being forced” into voting on Mr. Obeldobel's strong-arm tactics.

“I have not had more than five minutes to think about [the contract extension],” Ms. Prilla said.

Councilman John Wagner, who also voted against Mr. Obeldobel's proposal, said on more than one occasion that the Carrick High teacher was “grand-standing” at the meeting. Mr. Obeldobel's wife Tammy Obeldobel countered by accusing Mr. Wagner of being “very unprofessional” regarding his conduct on council.

The meeting continued in an adversarial manner with questions and challenges being shouted out from the gallery in no particular order and frequently without identifying the questioner. Mr. Obeldobel, sounding more like a television-drama lawyer than a public school teacher, continued his “cross-examination” of the council often springing an answer that contradicted the response from Mr. Cornelius.

The tirades continued and at one point Ms. Prilla hurried out of the meeting without comment by way of a side door, leaving only six council members to conduct business.

After more than two hours of questioning, order was temporarily restored long enough to get through council's regular business uneventfully. That changed when Mr. Cornelius (who was unusually reticent during the meeting) asked if there was any “New Business” to bring before council.

Under New Business, Mr. Cassidy motioned to “reorganize” the borough council, Mr. Caylor provided the second to the motion.

The motion brought the council meeting to a standstill and Borough Solicitor James Perich was asked to explain the reorganization. He said that during reorganization, the council members who make up various committees would decide who will lead the council as president and vice-president.

Mr. Perich said that reorganization is typically held at a special meeting following a municipal election, but that it could be held anytime.

With the motion on the floor, Mr. Cornelius, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wagner voted against the motion. Voting in favor of the reorganization were Ms. Brendel, Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Caylor. With Ms. Prilla no longer present at the meeting, the proposal was deadlocked. Mayor Jeff Repasky was called on to break the tie vote. The mayor cast a vote in favor of reorganization.

With an affirmative vote for reorganization, the borough was left without a president of council, thus control of the meeting reverted to Mayor Repasky. The mayor immediately opened the floor for nominations. That is when Mr. Wagner nominated Councilman Cornelius and Mr. Caylor nominated Councilman Cassidy.

Votes for each man followed the lines of the reorganization vote which resulted in another deadlock. Solicitor Perich checked the Pennsylvania Municipal Code to see if the mayor was entitled to cast the deciding vote. The solicitor determined Mr. Repasky was eligible to vote under these circumstances.

“No disrespect to Mr. Cornelius,” the mayor said. “But (given the evening's discussion) I think Mr. Cornelius needs a break.”

Mr. Repasky cast the deciding vote, favoring Mr. Cassidy. The council then voted Mr. Caylor as vice-president.

The meeting almost lasted three hours and 15 minutes, more than two hours longer than the typical council meeting. It is the second consecutive month that the elected officials took about three hours to conduct its business in front of a packed audience in council chambers.

(David Assad also contributed to this story)


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