On Thursday evening, Jim Thorpe Borough Council voted to authorize Attorney William Schwab to file an appeal to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the decisions from federal Judge Richard Caputo on the John Thorpe vs. Jim Thorpe lawsuit.
The vote was 6-0, with council member Jay Miller absent from the meeting.
In April, Judge Caputo's ruling found the Borough of Jim Thorpe to be a "museum" as defined by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
Mayor Michael Sofranko discussed the different options the borough had. One would be to appeal the decision.
Some grounds for appeal included: NAGPRA applies to ancient artifacts, not modern humans. Also, it interferes with the traditional family rights of modern humans.
Another option would be to follow the ruling and come into compliance with NAGPRA, which would entail an inventory and identification of all Native American artifacts and would require exhumation of Jim Thorpe's remains.
Attorney Vince Garvey stated that Judge Caputo did not rule that Jim Thorpe's remains had to go back to Oklahoma. But, by declaring the borough a 'museum'; they would need to follow the procedures of NAGPRA.
Garvey stated that any municipality that receives federal funds may be considered a museum and must comply with NAGPRA.
He added that the borough did not receive direct federal funding. The borough has received funds through the county such as Community Block Grants but the borough never received direct federal funds.
Sofranko stated that appealing the decision could cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, not appealing and following the procedure of NAGPRA could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I think council made the right decision. Council listened to the attorneys and the resident's views. Council also looked at the financial issues," stated Sofranko.
Sofranko also mentioned that due to the suit the borough's liability insurance went up $90,000.
Sofranko added that William G. Schwab and Associates have done over $110,000 of work on this suit without charging the borough.
Council member, Joanne Klitsch stated that at the public meeting held last week there were people and groups who wished to fundraise to help. She encouraged that anyone who wishes to help could.
Sofranko stated that residents had spoken with borough officials about how they felt. Most residents wanted to fight the ruling but also make sure the borough is protected financially.
Sofranko said that at the public meeting, "The residents had a good healthy debate and wanted to educate themselves."
Garvey added, "I'm proud to see the residents standing behind the community."
Sofranko discussed that if the borough just decided to give Jim Thorpe's remains to the family then there could be issues with the contract between the borough and Patricia Thorpe, Jim Thorpe's third wife.
The contract was made in 1954 and it detailed the boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk merging and taking the name of Jim Thorpe. Jim Thorpe's remains would then stay in the borough at a respectful burial site.
The family of Jim Thorpe's first wife also agrees with keeping Jim Thorpe's remains in the borough.
The family of the second wife, the family who initiated the litigation, wishes to have his remains returned to Oklahoma.
Sofranko stated that the borough is not against Native Americans. They wish to protect the residents' interests and have a more defined ruling.