Editorial: The 178-acre conflict of interest
By Richard Gaw
In the world of politics, no matter if they are international, national, regional or local, seldom are decisions reached without discord among the elected. Often, the laws that govern us are the residue of argument, the aftermath of what happens when disagreement finally meets resolution, and whether or not we as citizens, on the receiving end of these decisions, will be better off remains the essential crap shoot of our political system.
In the theater of that system, although it is the responsibility of the elected to render his or her vote unencumbered by bias, party lines or favoritism, only the most naive would believe that our politicians are led purely by such altruism. At the New Garden Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 23, the votes of two board members – which led to a 3-2 vote that entered the township into negotiations for the purchase of a 178-acre tract of property owned in part by a former supervisor for the price of $2.3 million – were publicly brought into question.
At one point during the discussion of whether the township should entertain the idea of purchasing the property of former supervisor Warren Reynolds for the purpose of placing a conservation easement on it, board member Randy Geouque asked township solicitor Mark Thompson to recuse fellow supervisors Betty Gordon and Steve Allaband from voting on the issue.
Geouque's reasons were simple: "In my opinion, this transaction reflects poorly on the board," he said. "Two board members [Gordon and Allaband] not only have served with Warren in the past, but are known friends of his. In my opinion, it looks like cronyism, and may be a conflict of interest." Geouque's comments were supported by board member Pat Little, who said, "It seems to me that we are trying to befriend Mr. Reynolds to the tune of $2.3 million."
Thompson denied Geouque's request, which came moments after both Gordon and Allaband gave similar reasoning for their decision to vote 'Yes' on the issue, essentially proclaiming that purchasing the property out of the township's open space fund now would safeguard the land from being purchased – and developed – by a real estate developer in the future, were "something to happen" to Reynolds.
It's a weak argument at best, and one that potentially aligns both Allaband and Gordon in collusion to help out a friend and former board member.
Reynolds, who is currently serving a prison sentence for the possession of child pornography, is a known conservationist. He was unquestionably the most ferocious voice in opposition to the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust's plans to develop a massive outdoor marketplace in New Garden Township a few years ago. Moreover, Reynolds repeatedly stated during his tenure as supervisor that he would never turn over his property – located between Newark and Penn Green Roads – to a land developer.
So the question remains: What reason does the township have for investing $2.3 million of New Garden taxpayers' money into the purchase of land that the primary landowner has publicly and vehemently said would forever remain in trust?
The repercussions of this decision are sure to be felt positively throughout New Garden Township for years to come. Although the details of the 178-acre purchase allows for the construction of three additional homes on it, we know that the property will remain an unblemished natural land in perpetuity, nearly exactly as it has been for more than 200 years. We know that it will fend off a real estate developer's vision of dotting the once rural landscape with cookie-cutter splotches of homes.
And yet, has the township purchased this property solely for these reasons? Further stated, if it is the responsibility of the elected to render his or her vote unencumbered by bias, party lines or favoritism, then was this decision reached cleanly?
The citizens of New Garden Township have a right to know, and if not, then the real truth is on the conscience of supervisors Allaband and Gordon to protect...in perpetuity.