LANCASTER, Pa. - A bill calling for an investigation of a Lancaster County sheriff has advanced in a Pennsylvania House committee by a vote of 17-10.
Sheriff Mark Reese has been embroiled in controversy since sexually explicit emails and allegations of sexual harassment came to light in July 2016. He has been on paid leave since late July, with no indication that he plans to resign.
According to reports, Reese admitted to sending the emails during an internal investigation, but the Board of Commissioners is unable to fire the sheriff. Aside from resignation, the only way the sheriff can be removed from office is through legislative impeachment. The passing of House Resolution No. 131 is the first step in that process.
The bill asks that “the Judiciary Committee be authorized to investigate the conduct of Mark Reese, the sheriff of Lancaster County, to determine whether Mark Reese is liable to impeachment for misbehavior in office and to report to the House of Representatives the conclusions of the committee in respect to the investigation and determination with its appropriate recommendations.”
The bill was amended before its advancement to clarify the committee’s authorization to retain staff to assist both the judiciary panel and the Subcommittee on Courts during the investigation. The amendment also clarified how expenses would be paid for the investigation.
Two senators, however, are trying to take matters into their own hands.
Sen. Scott Martin and Sen. Ryan P. Aument, both Republicans from Lancaster, have filed a lawsuit against Reese, seeking to have him removed from his position.
They argue that because Reese has been on a leave of absence since July 26, has relinquished all weapons and equipment needed for his position, does not have access to county buildings, and has not performed any of his duties as sheriff since July, he has, both as a matter of fact and law, “resigned from the public office of Sheriff of Lancaster County.”
Reese, meanwhile, has filed his objections to the complaint, arguing “plaintiffs lack a special interest in the matter, an interest in the controversy, and/or some peculiar personal interest, aside from the general interest of the public. Plaintiffs have not been actually aggrieved, adversely affected, and/or specially damaged by Defendant’s conduct.”
The plaintiffs argue that part of their role as senators is to receive the governor’s nominations for the sheriff's office when it becomes vacant, and “they have constitutional and statutory rights to give or withhold consent on such nominations.”
Because Reese has not resigned despite having vacated the office “as a matter of fact and law,” he is preventing the senators from exercising their rights to receive nominations for the position and to provide or withhold consent, they contend.