Kennett Township supervisors dismiss township manager
● By Richard Gaw
The Kennett Township Board of Supervisors announced on May 20 that they dismissed Lisa Moore as the township's manager on May 17, in connection to a release issued by the township ten days earlier, indicating that the township was exploring suspicious transactions discovered in its bank accounts.
In an official township release issued to the Chester County Press at 1:05 p.m., Moore's dismissal came “after new information was discovered and brought before the supervisors,” it stated. “The dismissal action was coordinated with the township’s legal and human resources representatives.”
Moore had been on paid administrative leave since suspicious bank account transactions were discovered in late April.
“Two independent investigations, by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office and a forensic auditing firm, are underway into the matter,” the release continued. “Because of the ongoing investigations, Kennett Township Supervisors cannot comment on today’s action.”
The release of this second announcement from the township came just days after an hour-long discussion between several township residents and their three supervisors – Chairman Scudder Stevens, Dr. Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman – dominated the agenda at the board's May 15 meeting. In an effort to respond to as many questions as they could legally answer – and also to quell the rising waters of controversy – Stevens began the meeting by reading a prepared statement.
“Tonight, I am sad to say that we need to begin this meeting by reporting on a disturbing event that took place in our township,” he said. “When we took office, the board promised that the government of Kennett Township would be open and transparent. That is why when we discovered this matter, that we quickly informed our constituents about the investigation. The same day we learned of these suspicious transactions, acting on the advice of Kennett Township Police Chief Lydell Nolt and our legal counsel, we turned the matter over to the Chester County District Attorney's Office to investigate, to see what laws were violated.”
Stevens continued his statement, and told the audience that the investigation will be “absolutely impartial and unbiased.” He repeated the fact that the township has hired forensic auditors from Marcum, LLP, and later told the audience that the township has also hired image and branding consultant Carl Francis.
The auditors’ report on the investigation should be available by early fall, he said.
While the investigation continues, Stevens said that he, Leff and Hoffman “would like to know more about what happened. There are, however, many facts that just aren’t clear, or completely flushed out at this point. I believe we'll soon find out what took place, and the supervisors will share, on a regular basis, all admitted information with you, including what actions may be taken.
“We know you have questions, as do we,” Stevens said at the conclusion of his statement. “Please remember that we can’t comment on the specifics of the investigation, and we won’t speculate on any aspect. You also should not speculate. Everything is not always as it first appears.”
After Stevens read the letter that the township had sent to residents on May 10, a microphone stand arranged near the rear of the meeting room served as a platform for several residents, who questioned the supervisors about a number of issues.
Township resident Amy Heinrich – who is also the finance director and treasurer for West Whiteland Township – offered to help the supervisors with the business of the township, which all three have been pressed into service to conduct over the past three weeks. One of her concerns was whether the township authorizes multiple signers on township checks, which Stevens specified was broken down as follows: one signature is required for checks up to $2,000; and that two signatures required on township checks for more than $2,000.
Responding to Heinrich’s questions, Stevens said that he could not share with her the amount of money being investigated, the length of time the alleged fraud had been occurring, or if the incident(s) took place inside the Township Building.
“Do any of you have formal training in finance and accounting, or experience over time?” she asked Stevens, who said that while he does not consider himself to be an auditor or an accountant, all three supervisors, he said, have financial backgrounds.
“That’s the reason why we have a forensic auditor,” he said. “That’s the reason we now have a local accounting firm who does work in our financial department.
“The buck stops here. It’s our responsibility and we have to deal with it, but we are making every effort to have objective third parties – eyes on, hands on – to make sure that everything is being handled without question, from this point forward.”
One resident asked Stevens to explain the reason for the gap between April 29 – when the supervisors first learned of the possible fraud – and May 10, when the residents were sent a letter informing them of the investigation. “What is the reason for the delay?” she asked.
“We had to bring in the police,” Stevens said. “We had to bring in the District Attorney. We had to meet with ourselves to formulate a plan as to how we were going to go forward. Then we prepared the communication that would hopefully be sensible and supportive of the community. It took some time to accomplish all of that.
“This has been under active management by the three of us,” he said, referring to the three supervisors.
Another township resident said that she was surprised that it was the township's bank who found the financial discrepancy, and not the internal checks and balances of the township itself.
“When you ran [for supervisor], Scudder, you talked a lot about transparency and the concerns we had about the people who were running the township before we knew what was going on,” she told Stevens. “Is there anything you could tell us about why it was the bank [who found the discrepancy]?”
“It was because of the internal controls we put in place that we were able to pull this together,” he said. “I can’t go into much more detail with you without potentially compromising the situation. All of that will come out, I assure you.”
Stevens said that the township has been actively pursuing hiring an interim manager while the investigation is continuing, and letters of interest from potential candidates have already been received. He also said that initially, the legal costs expected to be associated with this investigation will come from township resources. “Whether there is a back-up resource for after the fact remains to be finalized,” Stevens added.
While the staff of Kennett Township, its residents – and very likely an entire community – awaits the conclusion of the separate investigations being conducted by the forensic auditor and the District Attorney’s office and Moore’s possible role in it, the burden of regaining the trust of a constituency falls on the township’s most prominent elected officials – Stevens, Leff and Hoffman.
It may begin with finding answers to difficult questions. On Page 2 of the May 10 letter sent to township residents, partners and friends, it read, “As Supervisors, we have fiduciary responsibility to protect the Township, its citizens, its employees and every part of our government.”
That said, how did this happen?
“The reality is that I can’t tell you that without revealing information which is confidential to the investigation, and that would have a compromising effect on that investigation,” Stevens said. “It would be easy for me to do to tell you what I experienced, but I’m only one player. If I put any kind of spin and give you an explanation based on my vision, that’s me speculating. It needs to be done by an objective party who is investigating this thoroughly. That's the DA on one side, and the forensic auditor on the other, and there's no speculation on their part.
“They are covering the waterfront,” he added. “My vision is only what I have lived with, so me telling you that – even if it works for me – it really doesn’t really work for the whole picture, and it potentially compromises this case. This case is too important to all of us for it to be compromised in any way, for the people who are here and the people who are not here.
“The way that we have been [addressing this controversy] is by grasping this wild animal with everything we have and getting it under control, so that there is no more leakage – to find out where those problems may have been and prevent them from happening in the future,” Stevens added. “I've probably already said too much, but we are absolutely and completely committed to transparent government that is honest. It's because of the things we have had in place that this came to a head faster and more thoroughly. We are committed to getting this resolved, and that’s what we're going to do.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.