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Wednesday, November 08, 2017 by Finn

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ELLEN F. O’CONNELL/Staff PhotographerCurrent city councilman and mayoral candidate Jeff Cusat talks about crime and police protection during a “Let the People Know” mayoral forum sponsored by the Standard-Speaker and SSPTV. All four mayoral candidates participated in the forum that was held live in the studio at SSPTV Monday.

Hazleton City Council members haven’t had the opportunity to discuss how they will fill a council seat that opens early next year when Councilman Jeff Cusat transitions to the mayor’s office, according to the city council president.

This time around, council President Jack Mundie insists the council will not turn to Luzerne County court for help in filling the vacancy. The term finishes at the end of 2017.

“We will be filling it,” Mundie said Wednesday. “It won’t go up to the county.”

Council Vice President Jean Mope agreed.

“We’re going to make our own decision,” she said.

Cusat, who was elected mayor in November, said inauguration ceremonies won’t take place in Hazleton until Jan. 4.

At that point, he’ll resign from council and begin serving a four-year term as mayor.

Mundie said that council hasn’t discussed the pending vacancy at this point — and likely won’t until Councilman-elect Robert Gavio takes office in January.

“It’s not vacant yet,” Mundie said of Cusat’s seat. “Maybe once the new councilman comes on, maybe (then) we’ll get some input from everybody.”

Council turned to Luzerne County’s president judge for filling a seat that opened when Keith Bast resigned Sept. 8 to take a job in another state.

The governing body solicited resumes and applications from members of the public who were interested in serving the balance of Bast’s term but voted to petition Luzerne County’s president judge to fill the seat.

Eight people submitted letters or resumes for council to consider while Cusat presented his own candidate for filling Bast’s seat.

Council agreed to include the letters and resumes with its petition to the court. It ultimately missed a 30-day deadline for filling the vacant seat.

City Solicitor Robert Cohen submitted the petition to the court on behalf of council but John Keegan — a Republican who lost by 17 votes to Mope in November – also petitioned the court to serve the remainder of Bast’s term.

Keegan, who often clashed with the Mundie-led Democratic council majority, was ultimately selected by court en banc to fill the vacancy through the end of 2015.

Councilman Dave Sosar responded to the appointment by questioning the decision made by the judges — and made assurances that he will vote to appoint a candidate to fill the balance of Cusat’s term on council.

“I will say I already know who I’m voting for the council seat come January,” Sosar recently told the Standard-Speaker. “It will not be John Keegan.”

Cusat said Wednesday he hopes that council acts quickly to fill the pending vacancy.

“I was very disappointed in the procedure to fill Keith Bast’s seat,” Cusat said. “If council is going to vote on (the pending vacancy) I’d like them to take the same approach they took this time, by asking for applications from the public. I’d also like them to take into consideration the way the voters felt in the last election.”

So far, at least one member of the public expressed an interest in serving out the balance of Cusat’s term on council.

Scott Cahalane, an independent who ran for mayor in November, said in a letter to council that he’s interested in serving the balance of Cusat’s term.

“I feel I have proven myself as a formidable candidate and I know I will work just as hard, TOGETHER, with you four council members and the Mayor, to do what is right for the citizens of Hazleton,” Cahalane wrote. “I would like to help lead this city into the future and help the citizens (new and old_ to have a better, more prosperous life.”