Kennett Township fraud investigation reaches interview stage
By Richard Gaw
A non-specified number of individuals connected to the governance of Kennett Township are currently being interviewed by the Chester County District Attorney's Office and Marcum, LLP – a forensic auditor hired by the township – as part of the continuing search to find the source – or sources – of possible fraud in the township, an investigation that is soon to enter its fourth month.
In a statement announced at the board of supervisors June 19 meeting, board chairman Scudder Stevens said the interview phase has begun, but did not specify which township employees or officials are being interviewed. It's the latest step to learn more about an issue that has gripped the township, one that first came to light on April 25, when Stevens and supervisors Dr. Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman were notified by the fraud department at the township's bank that its officers had found a number of suspicious transactions on township accounts.
In an official Kennett Township press release sent on May 11, the supervisors wrote that they carefully reviewed the findings with the bank, legal and law enforcement representatives and immediately referred the matter to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office. Also, steps were taken to make sure no further unauthorized transactions took place.
On May 14, former township manager Lisa Moore was placed on paid administrative leave, and in an official release issued on May 20, the supervisors announced that they dismissed Moore from her job, “after new information was discovered and brought before the supervisors,” the release stated. “The dismissal action was coordinated with the township’s legal and human resources representatives.”
On June 5, Stevens read a brief joint statement that said that the investigation was in the final stages of securing records and documents from both internal and external sources, and that the DA's Office and forensic auditor were in the process of analyzing and qualifying those documents, a process which will continue for a period of some months.
Stevens also said on June 5 that Police Chief Lydell Nolt had recently received a joint memo from the investigators, stating that they were in the final stages of securing records and documents, both from internal and external sources.
In announcing that the interview phase of the investigation has started, Stevens apologized for not being able to provide specific information, such as the list of individuals who are being interviewed, by advisement from the DA's Office.
“I also cannot speculate or discuss who is being interviewed, the subjects covered, or how long the interview phase may take,” he said. “As we are able, we will provide further updates. I appreciate your understanding as we work to fully support the investigation and not to do or say anything which might jeopardize it.”
Stevens then introduced David Woglom, Associate Director for Public Service at the Meyner Center at Lafayette College for the Study of State and Local Government. Woglom, who was hired by the township to help find a qualified township manager, told the audience that he was hired to be a “procedure person” who will make “recommendations to the board to seek, recruit and ultimately hire the best candidate that is available in the marketplace,” he said.
Woglom said that the deadline for applications will be July 10, which will be followed by two rounds of interviews with candidates with the board. After the interview process, the board will announce their choice at a public meeting in August, and expect that the new township manager will begin his or her job by late September.
“The nature of my practice is that I know many of the managers and assistant managers in all of southeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, and I bring that input to the board to help them make a decision,” he said. “I do not decide who the next [Kennett Township] manager will be. Rather, what I do is help the board with providing input and process to help them make the decision as to who the next manager will be.”
Woglom said that the background check of the successful candidate for the position will come in two stages.
“On an informal basis, I’ll do a background investigation if the board will be interviewing people in southeastern Pennsylvania – managers and assistant managers in that area – [because] there’s a good chance I will know them or know of them,” he said. “More formally, prior to making the appointment, the board will do a very formal background investigation of the finalist that they will hire.”
Woglom said he has received between 10 and 12 applications so far, and that the supervisors will likely interview as many as 10 candidates.
Stevens also introduced interim township manager Alison Rudolf, who began her new job on May 28. Previously, she had served as the township manager for Lower Moreland Township for 26 years.
Rudolf thanked the many people in the township who have welcomed her to her position, and said that since beginning her job, she has met with many of the key stakeholders in the township to get an understanding of the township’s key initiatives. Later in the meeting, she spelled out the work she is doing to review the township’s policies and procedures, to identify what Stevens said are “areas that can be improved, made more efficient and effective in keeping with best practices, and made more secure.”
Based on Rudolf’s recommendation, the board approved a resolution to designate Fulton Bank as the township’s depository and authorize the transferring of township accounts to the bank. In addition, the authorization of check writing will require at least one supervisor’s signature on all township checks.
“It was my determination that the time was now to do this, and there was no reason not to do it,” she said. “It secures the fact that we know who the signers are. There is no question about the new accounts, and while these investigations are on-going and while we don’t know what the outcome is, we know that there will be added security to our bank accounts.”
“There is a tremendous amount of time being spent by the supervisors in reviewing every transaction that goes through at this point,” Stevens said. “This will help to open up that log jam, because there will be new accounts and new checks. Everything will be fresh.”
In other township business, supervisor Whitney Hoffman was appointed as the township’s secretary/treasurer, filling the position previously held by Moore. Township solicitor David Sander said that it is common in townships in Pennsylvania to have an elected board member serve in this capacity. As secretary, she will sign township documents, and witness signatures on resolutions and ordinances. As treasurer, she will provide assistance to the township manager.
The board approved a cooperative effort to enter into a “memorandum of understanding” with East Marlborough Township to split the cost of improvements projected for the intersection/bypass at Route 1 and Route 82.
Sander said that the two municipalities received a grant to perform improvements at the intersection, and that the memorandum states that once the design phase is completed, Kennett Township will bid, award and work with the contractor on the project. In addition to the grant, Kennett Township’s available funding for the project is capped at $61,100.
The board agreed to waive the township’s stormwater ordinance regarding future trails that are constructed in the township, with the following conditions: That the township follow Chester County Conservation District requirements regarding township trail projects; that the township engineer ensure that trail projects follow Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans and revisions; that township trails be designed to avoid concentrated discharge and/or increases in flow rates which could result in adverse impacts to a downgradient property, unless agreed upon in advance by an affected property owner; and that all township trails must be designed to avoid concentrated discharges that may lead to erosion.
The board also approved a proposal from the Delta Development Group that requests to assist the township in seeking a multimodal transportation grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority, to help pay for a planned roundabout the Five Points intersection in the township, which is estimated to cost $2.2 million.
By agreeing to the proposal, the township will pay Delta Development Group $1,500 per month.
During her township manager’s report, Rudolf said that it is anticipated that the Clifton Mill Bridge, which is currently closed for repairs, will re-open at the beginning or mid-July. She also said that work on the refurbishing of the Pennock and Parish trails has begun, and urged people to use these trails with caution while they are under construction.
Rudolf concluded her report by saying that repairs have begun on the Longwood Gardens bridge overpass, and that delays during this period are anticipated to occur on Route 1 near Longwood Gardens between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
There will be no Board of Supervisors meeting on July 3, and the township office will be closed on July 4 and 5, in observance of the Independence Day holiday.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.