Routine Town Appointment Turns Political
Pike County Dispatch, Thursday, January 12, 2017
By: Wayne Witkowski
DINGMANS FERRY – A conditional appointed position customary in municipal government triggered a lengthy debate during the Delaware Township reorganization meeting last week and led to further discussion after the two-hour session.
About 32 residents, more than usual for a reorganization meeting, came to see where some of their tax money will be spent in 2017 and to hear dialogue and dissent on some of the 70 line items of appointments and approvals. But when it got to item No. 50 to appoint local contractor Jeff Shirley as Delaware Township Vacancy Board, Supervisor John Henderson objected and instead recommended Stephen McBride for the position.
Henderson said the agenda that included this position was set up without his seeing it or given as opportunity for input. Township Administrator Krista Predmore pointed out that a draft of the agenda was sent electronically to all three supervisors.
The Vacancy board, which consists of one person appointed in municipalities around the state, is called upon only for a tiebreaking vote. It happens when a supervisor resigns, is suspended or passes away and the other supervisors cannot reach a majority vote on a successor within 30-day time period. When that happens, the vacancy board individual casts the deciding vote within 15 days.
Henderson contended the appointment of Shirley was a “pay to play’ move that would create a perceived conflict of interest. He showed paperwork that Shirley and his wife, Evelyn, gave a $200 campaign contribution between March and May of 2011 to supervisor candidate Tom Ryan, who was elected and currently is seated on the township’s board of supervisors.
Township Solicitor Thomas Farley firmly disagreed. “It only became a conflict of interest if it involves the who would be appointed to the (vacated) supervisor’s position,” Farley said.
“I would say three-quarters of the people in this room gave (me) campaign contributions,” Ryan said.
Henderson said McBride had not given campaign contributions and Ryan countered that the point was incidental because McBride would not be allowed to support any candidate while he served as a magisterial judge at the time. McBride no longer servers as a judge.
Henderson also held a Right to Know requested list of 17 work orders between 2010 and 2015 totaling $16,642.97 paid to Shirley and his company, ADI Sign in Dingmans Ferry. All of the jobs paid less than $1,972 except one for $6,510 for township signage and another for $2,080 for emergency signs.
Henderson contended that many of the work orders that made up most of the 17items should have been put out for bid. The supervisors disagreed, and Predmore after the meeting provided documentation that only work orders costing more than $10,500 are required by state regulations to go through a bidding process. Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff Scheetz asked for a motion after discussion and the vote was taken, approving Shirley by a 2-1 vote, with Henderson dissenting.
Henderson said afterward that the work orders list for Shirley included $1,971.25 for repairs from vandalism at Akenac Park in December of 2014 and $1,245.45 for installation of floodlights at the park in 2015. He claimed that Ryan campaigned against the park in his run for supervisor and then, after being elected, reversed his position.
“We had the Dickens Christmas event that day (when the vandalism was discovered) and were scrambling to get someone to come in right away and repair the damage so we called the first two people we could think of,” Predmore said of the repairs order, saying that B&G (Electric of Dingmans Ferry) also teamed up for the repairs. Ryan agreed after the reorganization meeting that he was opposed at first to the $1.2 million acquisition of the park property and the $800,000 engineering study for a mixed-use zoning of streets, sidewalks and underground utilities under the previous administration. Stroudsburg engineering firm F.X. Browne Inc. made follow-up studies for a different plan.
“It was not an urban environment like the (early) plans showed, and the public was never consulted by the previous administration,” Ryan said. “But once we got it right, which meant getting away from the urban plan, I was in favor of it.”
After the board voted to appoint Shirley, Henderson kept to his point. ” It still can be perceived as a conflict of interest,” Henderson said afterward. Most motions were approved unanimously, including Scheetz remaining as board chairman and treasure, Ryan as vice chairman, and Henderson as secretary but Henderson still voted against some motions, including authorizing the treasurer to pay monthly bills due between regularly scheduled meetings. That motion passed 2-1 vote.
Henderson asked before the vote that the township have a specific list itemizing purchases, including those on credit cards, saying they can only be made after approval. He was alluding to a meeting last month when he criticized a purchase of a large Christmas tree for the township bought by Ryan on sale reduced 40 percent on his credit card at the time before the boards’ approval vote for the purchase was taken. The purchase was made at the time within the period of the sale. Farley pointed out at the meeting that the supervisor making that purchase risks being liable for the expense if the board rejects the purchase.
The next Board of Supervisors meeting takes place 6:30 p.m. Wednesday Dec. 11, preceded by a 5:30 p.m. workshop. Henderson objected to the start time for workshops a half hour later at 6 p.m. would allow time for people to attend who are getting out of work. The board approved the motion to keep the startup time at 5:30 p.m. by a 2-1 vote, with Henderson voting against it.