State Rep. Gerald Mullery soon will hold constituent outreach office hours in several municipalities that he won’t represent until December, and that has miffed the lawmaker who still represents those communities.
State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, who represents the 116th Legislative District, believes it’s unethical and gives Mullery an unfair advantage in the election to begin meeting next month with constituents in several Hazleton area communities, even though a state Ethics Commission ruling says it’s OK.
Toohil still represents West Hazleton and several other communities where Mullery, D-Newport Township, who represents the 119th District, plans to hold office hours.
Mullery plans to send a staff member to West Hazleton, Hazle Township, Freeland and White Haven to hear constituents’ concerns or questions and to provide services for them, he said. Even though Mullery will represent those areas beginning in December under previously approved redistricting plans, Toohil feels he is jumping the gun.
“The Ethics Commission ruled that all of the legislators could conduct outreach in their new districts, (but) I have an ethical issue with it because I’ve been elected to represent those areas,” she said. “I’m elected to represent them until December.”
Toohil said she still is dealing with constituent issues in the areas where Mullery wants to set up shop.
“They have been having an issue with a gun range coming to West Hazleton I’ve been involved with,” Toohil said. “It’s a problem because it causes confusion with the people. We’re currently doing their rebates and all of the PACE applications.”
Mullery said he will begin next month expanding his constituent outreach into the future portions of his district.
“The actual districts go into effect Dec. 1, but we are allowed to do legislative outreach, providing documents to help people get state benefits,” Mullery said. “A lot of times people don’t have access to our office.”
“We want to start doing that as soon as possible,” he said.
He added it’s not unusual for legislators to provide service to constituents outside of their districts.
“In my three years in the House, I’ve handled constituent service outside the district,” he said.
He said he has received calls from constituents in neighboring districts.
Mullery said legislators were advised by state House lawyers about what is acceptable and not acceptable in the future areas of their districts. The constituent service won’t cost the lawmaker because the staff member will use space in municipal buildings and senior centers to meet with the public.
“The only restriction is we are not permitted to use campaign funds or do anything campaign related,” Mullery said.
He is not the only one reaching out to future constituents. Toohil said other legislators are doing outreach in areas they don’t yet represent, but she said that doesn’t make it right. She pointed out there are former legislators who went to prison because they campaigned on state time; yet, the ethics commission ruled it is OK for legislators to conduct outreach in new areas to potential voters.
“I just think there has to be other ways to introduce yourself,” she said.
She said she would introduce herself to people in new areas of her district by attending municipal meetings or meeting constituents on her own time.
Not partisan issue
She said it is not a partisan issue. The Republican said she often works with state Sen. John Yudichak, a Democrat, on Hazleton issues. Hazleton is in the senator’s district.
She said she hopes she can work with Mullery or whoever represents the 119th District after this year’s election.
“With me losing West Hazleton, that’s something I’m going have to come to terms with,” Toohil said. “It’s sad, but I hope to work with the representative who’s coming in, and, I’ll let constituents know I could still help them.”