City’s First Black Treasurer Says Office Held Up Over Bias

(CN) — Two months after her barrier-breaking election, the first black treasurer of a small city south of Pittsburgh brought a federal complaint against two white officials whom she accuses of conspiring to block her from assuming the office.

“We are asking the city to install my client into the position that the people of Uniontown elected her to fill,” attorney Joel Sansone said at a news conference Wednesday. “This case is about racism.”

Antoinette Hodge shows a shirt showing her faith in God at a Wednesday news conference in Pittsburgh regarding the filing of a federal lawsuit against the city of Uniontown, Pa., and others. Hodge, duly elected as tax collector, says Uniontown failed to swear her in as tax collector because she’s black. Her attorney Joel Sansone stands in the background. (Steph Chambers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Sansone represents Antoinette Hodge, who was meant to be sworn in as Uniontown treasurer Monday after defeated the incumbent in the November general election.

In a federal complaint filed Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s Western District, Hodge says her ceremony was thwarted on the basis of race by Uniontown Councilman Martin Gatti and city clerk Kimberly Marshall, Gatti’s sister-in-law.

The trouble has stemmed from bonding procedures that Uniontown requires pursuant to city code. First the city’s preferred bonding company turned Hodge away, according to the complaint, over a purported problem with her credit report.

Contesting this explanation, Hodge notes that she “was bonded during her previous employment and is currently bonded in her position as a trustee for a nonprofit organization.”

Hodge then went to BondExchange to secure the bond independently, only to then be surprised with a supposed mandatory exam and affidavit of residency.

When she passed the exam on Jan. 1, Gatti allegedly canceled her bond two days later. Later that week, BondExchange officials informed Hodge in a call with incoming Uniontown Mayor William Gerke, “Gatti informed BondExchange that he had been ‘authorized’ to cancel the Plaintiff’s bond by defendant Uniontown and that he was doing so because of ‘incriminating evidence’ allegedly uncovered by Plaintiff’s mandated background search,” according to the complaint.

As with the credit-check story, Hodge disputes that there was anything amiss with her background check. She says the true reason soon became clear from Jackson LNU, the BondExchange manager.

“Jackson also informed the Plaintiff and Mr. Gerke that Defendant Gatti had referred to the Plaintiff as ‘colored,’” the complaint states.

On Jan. 6, Uniontown swore in Gerke as mayor along with a city councilman and the city controller — all three are white.

In the city of 10,000, 15% of the population is black.

“I was shocked, at first, because I ever expected anything like this would happen,” Hodge said at the conference Wednesday. 

Gatti maintained at a council meeting Monday that he had legitimate questions about the treasurer-elect’s background, did not call her “colored,” and was going to sue Sansone for defamation. 

“I have never been accused of anything like that in my life,” Gatti said at the meeting. “Finances are finances. I don’t know how race got in this.” 

Hodge was issued a new bond on Wednesday, the Uniontown solicitor told CBS Pittsburgh, and can get sworn in at any time by any judge to her elected position.

The city of Uniontown did not immediately return an email requesting comment.

When Hodge was first denied her bond by the city’s usual company, she says she was told that LexisNexis National Credit File uncovered the supposed problem with her credit report.

Hodge notes that she later learned “that LexisNexis had not provided any person or entity with Plaintiff’s credit report.”

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