Stevens faces tough questions during investigation update
● By Richard Gaw
Speculation and accusation took center stage at the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors meeting on Aug. 21, as board chairman Scudder Stevens answered questions from township residents about the on-going investigation of possible fraud in the township.
For nearly 30 minutes, two residents in attendance at the meeting demanded additional accountability from the supervisors, specifically related to the disclosure of how much township money may have been involved, and whether the township is still financially stable.
As he has done since early May – when the public first became aware of an investigation that found financial irregularities, which later led to the dismissal of former township manager Lisa Moore – Stevens used the start of the meeting to provide those in attendance with an update about the investigation, currently being conducted by the Chester County District Attorney's Office and an independent forensic auditor.
At the beginning of the statement, Stevens again stressed that the township is working in full cooperation with both investigations.
“As you probably also know, all township employees (including the supervisors) have been asked by the District Attorney not to discuss any information which might jeopardize the investigations, and to refrain from speculation,” he read. “We have been following those instructions and cooperating fully in the investigations.
“What that means is that we are not free to talk about any of the facts or details of this matter that everyone wants to hear about. We all understand that and I appreciate your understanding.”
Attempting to backtrack his comments at the Aug. 7 meeting – when he speculated that both investigations could be wrapped up by mid-September – Stevens read that the investigations of both the District Attorney's Office and the forensic auditor are on-going and that “they remind us to be patient. These things take time.
“I do want to remind everyone tonight that the timing of both investigations is not under our control, nor is the time when they will conclude and report their findings,” Stevens read. “They will tell us when their investigations are complete, not the other way around. We are waiting to hear their results along with all of you. I appreciate your understanding as we work to fully cooperate and support their efforts, including not to do or say anything which might jeopardize or hinder either investigation.”
Stevens assured the audience that he and his fellow supervisors Dr. Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman are taking steps to add safeguards and security to the township's system of networks. He also said that the township is financially sound.
“As we have reported in the past, the township is in good shape financially, and our bills are all paid or current,” he said.
Soon after Stevens finished his prepared statement, township resident Bill Kaiser asked Stevens to provide the residents with a ballpark figure of how much money could be involved in the fraud case.
“What's the scope of this theoretical fraud?” Kaiser asked. “Can we get a range of what we're talking about?”
“No, you can't get a range about what we're talking about,” said township Solicitor David Sander. “We can't go into a range or a theoretical or actionable range, because that goes into the heart of the investigation, and that is at the center of it. Therefore, I don't know that the board even has information about that, but even if it did, they would not be at liberty to say, based on the chairman's earlier remarks regarding the detail to which the board can publicly state the scope of the investigation --”
“Is it more than one dollar?” Kaiser asked.
“I responded to you, Sir, and that's going to be the response of the board,” Sander said.
“I'm not talking about a theoretical range,” Kaiser said. “ I'm talking about some kind of a scope. We should have a feeling for what the scope of this range really is. Is it millions? Is it $500,000? Is it $100,000? If gets to the point where someone can write 20 checks for $1,000 each, you have a $20,000 problem, but if it's $200,000 or $300,000, it becomes a greater issue. Why can't we get more information?”
“First of all, your question is all speculation,” Stevens responded to Kaiser. “Your question is --”
“My question is not speculation,” Kaiser said.
“I am speaking,” Stevens said.
“I am clarifying my own defense, and I am allowed to do that,” Kaiser said.
“Your question was, 'Is it over a dollar?'” Stevens said.
“What is the range?” Kaiser responded.
“You're speculating as to what it is, and that's what we are not allowed to do,” Stevens said.
“A range is not speculation,” Kaiser said. “A range is between zero and something.”
“Are you finished talking?” Stevens asked.
“I'm talking about definitions,” Kaiser said.
“I can't speculate on your speculations,” Stevens said. “More importantly, as you know, all of our financial records are on the website. They are all on there for you to see. So you can certainly go and trace it through yourself.”
“Okay, but a range is not a speculation. It's a range,” Kaiser continued.
“Mr. Kaiser, you're not going to get a range tonight,” Sander said. “Thank you for asking the question. We understand your concern about what it is. All in good time.”
Stevens then directed his attention to another part of the meeting space.
“Is the township at financial risk because of this problem?” township resident John Haedrich asked Stevens.
“The answer is 'No,'” he said.
“And why do you say 'No?'” Haedrich responded.
“Because we're not at financial risk,” Stevens said.
“I understand that you have insurance coverage, and I suppose the insurance is enough to cover [the township] if there is severe financial risk,” Haedrich said.
“I should clarify my answer for you,” Stevens responded. “My understanding of your question is, 'Is the township at risk of financial problem or collapse?' I have continually every two weeks announced that we are a financially stable organization, and we are paying our bills and keeping current with our bills, so the township is not financially at risk.
“If you are asking 'Is there a way of recouping any losses?' the answer to that first acknowledges that there are losses and getting into what that means. That gets into speculation, because that hasn't yet been told to us.”
Stevens further clarified his response to Haedrich by saying that the township has not yet heard from either investigating party about possible ramifications, “and what has caused this whole situation in the first place.”
“We do know that the township's financial situation has not been compromised such that it cannot operate or that it cannot pay its bills, or function financially,” Sander said. “It is doing that, and it continues to do that. But we do know the township hasn't been wiped out. We know that the township still has certain financial assets that it is using on a daily basis to pay its bills and to operate.”
The meeting also saw a special announcement by Kennett Township Police Chief Lydell Nolt who, at the end of his monthly report, addressed the increase of active shooter incidents across the nation – and what the department is doing to address those concerns locally.
While he said that there are no identifiable threats in the community, Nolt assured the township's residents that the department is doing everything necessary to prepare for – and prevent – these incidents from happening locally.
Currently, the officers have received specialized training in active shooter response, and the department jointly trains with local, state and federal law enforcement in active shooter response training. The department is also a member of the Chester County Emergency Response Team, which allows other agencies who are members of the team to assist the township police in the event of a mass shooting incident.
For the last few years, the department has been working with the Kennett Consolidated School District, which has acquired funding to involve law enforcement agencies in Kennett Township, New Garden Township (the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department) and the Kennett Borough in providing additional officer resources in its schools.
“As the primary law enforcement agency that serves our community, we are doing a disservice if we are not prepared for these incidents,” Nolt said. “No one likes to think that these would happen in their community, but the likelihood continues to rise throughout our nation.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.