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Commissioners Call For Watson Resignation

Lower Pottsgrove Commissioner Shawn Watson, at right above, as he was sworn into office Jan. 6, 2014. He was asked Monday night by remaining Board of Commissioners’ members to resign

SANATOGA PA – Four of Lower Pottsgrove’s elected government leaders voted unanimously Monday night (Aug. 3, 2015) to formally request that a fifth, Commissioner Shawn Watson, resign from his office. The Board of Commissioners‘ vote may be defied, however; President Bruce Foltz reported Watson, who was absent when the decision was made, has said he will not leave.

The political drama – a reaction to news media revelations of Watson’s unpaid taxes owed to the township and Pottsgrove School District, as well as a reported history of legal troubles – unfolded almost as soon as Foltz pounded a gavel to open the commissioners’ meeting. The president acknowledged commissioners faced “a lot of pressure” to take action over “personal matters that are not of the board’s concern” and “something we can’t do anything about.”

Yet, before any other business was transacted, it was Foltz who made the motion calling for Watson’s departure and Vice President Stephen Klotz who seconded it. They and commissioners Earl Swavely and James Vlahos all agreed to its passage.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Klotz said later.

The “request” carries no force of law, and Watson can ignore it if he chooses, Solicitor Robert Brant said. Because Watson was publicly elected and is not deemed to be a township employee, Brant explained, his term of office cannot be arbitrarily ended or his political service suspended, despite the dissatisfaction or publicly stated distaste of his elected colleagues.

“He’s a validly elected commissioner, and he has a right to participate” in board deliberations and decisions, the solicitor proclaimed. In addition, Foltz noted, “Shawn’s not one to give up.”

That may not mean the issue is moot. Commissioners contacted the state for guidance on pursuing a potential ethics violation “but we haven’t gotten much help,” Foltz said. Also, Montgomery County Democratic Committee member Jim Prendergast speculated a recall vote was possible. Prendergast is co-chair for the county Democrats’ Area 1, which includes Lower, Upper and West Pottsgrove. Watson is a Republican.

Although members of the audience praised the board action, they expressed unhappiness about the lack of a resolution. “I think there’s a huge integrity problem” with Watson remaining on the board, Pruss Hill Road resident William Wolfgang said. Barbara Way resident Robert Franciose agreed; “he should be discharged, as simple as that, no questions asked,” Franciose said of Watson.

Watson, who Foltz said he personally warned early Monday morning of what was planned at the meeting, did not attend it.

Neither he or other board members are expected to be seen in the municipal building conference room until its Sept. 8 (Tuesday) meeting. The board’s scheduled Aug. 20 meeting was canceled, Manager Ed Wagner announced; no reason was offered.

If and when Watson returns 36 days later, commissioners were asked, then what?

“I’ve had a great relationship with Shawn,” said Foltz, who in his opening comments praised Watson for the respect he accorded other board members, the work he’s done on township food drives, and his assistance in settling police contract negotiations. Board members generally said they would continue to work with him, even though Foltz admitted they had pressured Watson “for more than a month” to resign.

For his part, Solicitor Brant labeled the board’s action “appropriate,” and said “the results are yet to be seen.”

Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ Aug. 3 meeting:

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