Township Pursues Removal of Elected Auditor Rather Than Share Free Access to Public Documents

On May 15, 2019, Christina Tatu wrote the below article for the Morning Call. While the full extent of the township’s ridiculous refusal to provide free access to a duly elected auditor was not covered in high detail – such as even access to past auditor meeting minutes, and certain simple requests such as to simply verify the physical existence of a $33,000 printer, it is a very fair and accurate article and worth a read below.

The township remains focused on removing me from office, rather than have any sort of public discussion on the township’s lack of public transparency as I attempted in April here. The township solicitor filed his official complaint with the Court of Common Pleas in Easton which can be read here. On page 12/14, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli refused to take on the case as the Township requested and has instead given Lower Nazareth Township permission to proceed with the quo warranto action at Township’s cost. The points listed in the complaint I already addressed at an April Board of Supervisors meeting which can be read here.

Lower Nazareth Township officials on Tuesday filed a lawsuit known as a “quo warranto petition” asking a judge to remove elected auditor Jake Towne from office.
It’s been about two months since Jake Towne lived in Lower Nazareth, yet Towne says he should be allowed to finish out his term as an elected auditor there.
Township officials disagree, and on Tuesday filed a lawsuit known as a “quo warranto petition” asking a judge to remove Towne from office.
“This is a simple case of an elected official moving out of town and still wanting to remain in office,” said Lower Nazareth Solicitor Gary Asteak, who filed the case in Northampton County Court with the support of District Attorney John Morganelli.
“We aren’t saying he didn’t do a good job. He’s no longer entitled to be an elected official within Lower Nazareth since he moved,” Asteak said, citing Pennsylvania’s second-class township code.
In Pennsylvania, quo warranto petitions are the only way to challenge a public official’s right to hold office. The petition basically questions whether someone is legally holding office.
Lower Nazareth officials hope a judge will remove Towne so they can appoint a current resident as a replacement for the remainder of the six-year term, but their hands are tied from doing so until Towne vacates the job.
Towne was a resident of Lower Nazareth until March, when he moved to Easton.
“I have moved, but I didn’t move to Texas or anything … My family still resides there, I still have a lot of friends there. I’ve lived there for close to 30 years of my life,” Towne said when asked why he feels so strongly about the position, even after moving to Easton.
The chair of Northampton County’s Libertarian Party, Towne was elected township auditor in November 2017.
He’s run other notable, but unsuccessful campaigns as an independent candidate. In 2010 he ran for U.S. Congress, and in November 2018, he ran to represent the 138th District in the Pennsylvania House.
Towne says he disagrees with the township’s interpretation of the township code, and believes he’s only required to have lived in Lower Nazareth for one-year prior to being elected.
On April 15, the Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Towne’s new Easton home asking him to either resign or explain why he still wanted the job during the board’s April 24 meeting.
During the meeting, Towne admitted he is no longer a resident of Lower Nazareth, that he lives in Easton and is registered to vote in Easton and that his drivers’ license reflects his new Easton address.
After that meeting, the supervisors asked Asteak to proceed with the quo warranto petition and Morganelli was asked to launch an investigation. On May 2, Morganelli notified township officials that he believes they have a case and can proceed, the lawsuit says.
Lower Nazareth Manager Lori Stauffer said the township has three elected auditors with staggered terms, but they rarely meet more than once or twice a year.
Their biggest responsibility, outlined in Pennsylvania’s second-class township code, is determining the salary for elected supervisors who are also employed by the township, Stauffer explained.
But none of the current five supervisors is employed by the township, so the elected auditors have very little responsibility. They typically meet once at the beginning of the year and are offered a stipend of $20 for that meeting, Stauffer said.
The township hires an outside firm to conduct its annual audits. The only reason Lower Nazareth has elected auditors is because it is required by the second-class township code, Asteak said when asked if the township would do away with the positions.
Towne said he views himself as a “fiscal watchdog” and has filed multiple right-to-know requests for documents that he posts on his website.
Towne believes he shouldn’t have to file a right-to-know request and should be entitled to the documents as an elected auditor.
“I think there’s a lack of public transparency and I hope by remaining in office, I can let people know what’s going on,” Towne said.
This is the second quo warranto case filed in Northampton County in recent weeks.
Last month, Washington Township Supervisors filed a case to remove chronically absent Supervisor Stacey Diehl, who hasn’t attended any township meetings since June 27, 2018.
Diehl has refused to step down and hasn’t provided an explanation for her absences. Supervisors cannot appoint a replacement for her role – which expires in January 2024 – until she is removed from office.

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