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Chester County Press

Editorial: The slow steps back to normalcy

08/27/2019 01:32PM ● By Richard Gaw
There was a brief moment at the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors meeting on Aug. 21 when the heavy, dark clouds that have enveloped the township in a swirling fog of controversy over the past four months temporarily lifted.

Patricia Maisano, the Chester County Treasurer and a township resident, was seated in the audience with her husband, the Hon. Dan Maisano. She stood, and directed her comments to Chairman Scudder Stevens, and supervisors Dr. Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman.

“I have lived here for about 30 years, and I have come to a lot of these meetings through the years,” she began. “You probably have gotten this message already, but I think it's important as a community to thank the three of you for your efforts to make this township more transparent and your communication with citizens of this county more transparent.

“You have walked into a wall of a mess, and I think you all are just awesome, and in case no one has said that to you, you need to remember that. I remember what it was like when we would never have known what you have divulged to us...where [Township Police] Chief Nolt's job would have been to take people out of this room.

“You have not done that, and for that, I thank you very much.”

To define the current investigation of fraud that was first alerted to the supervisors by bank officials in late April as “a wall of a mess” is an understated act of kindness on the part of the county's treasurer. While we do not yet know the full disclosure of the investigation, we are right to already look at what may have happened in Kennett Township over the past several years – and one that points to the former township manager as its lone architect –  as a devious, covert crime.

That said, Maisano's comments were the right words at just the right time, and should serve as a soothing balm to Stevens, Leff, Hoffman and the entire township staff, as they continue to carry on the business of a township.

In one brief message, Maisano praised the work each of the supervisors has done since April 25, when Stevens was first informed by the township's bank about potential possible suspicion of fraud. From that time, they have applied a thorough triage on the township, in the form of a step-by-step plan on of action. 

They placed former township manager Lisa Moore on administrative leave on May 1, and dismissed from her job on May 17, after additional information surfaced from the investigation. Later that month, they hired Alison Rudolf as interim township manager, and also hired image consultant Carl Francis to help direct communications.

Based on Rudolf’s recommendation – and as a measure of caution -- the board approved a resolution at their June 19 meeting to change all township accounts at Fulton Bank in order to have new account numbers on every bank account, and to authorize that all township checks will require at least one supervisor’s signature on all township checks, exclusively.

And, on Aug. 21, the board introduced and formally hired Eden Ratliff as the township's new manager. Ratliff spoke eloquently about his passion for local government, and his commitment to serve the community, and while he spoke, the heavy clouds that have presided over this township did not dissipate, but for the first time in a long time, the township meeting room felt lighter.

“I can assure you that the frustration we all feel – whether you reflected it outwardly or only internally – is something we understand, because we've been feeling it since before you began to feel it,” Stevens said to the audience on Aug. 21. “We're all in the same boat, trying to deal with it, and we rely completely on the District Attorney's Office and the forensic auditor to pull these pieces together.”

In a May 29 editorial, the Chester County Press wrote, “How Stevens, Leff and Hoffman navigate the township through the ugly revelations that are likely to be revealed by the fall is anyone’s guess, but as the most prominent elected officials in this township, the burden falls on them, but it also falls on the residents and taxpayers of Kennett Township to choose between acceptance or a demand for accountability….because when trust has been entirely evaporated, what else is there?”

While this newspaper will continue to provide unbiased, thorough and objective reporting on this continuing investigation – and while we will continue to ask the hard questions –  we acknowledge that through a series of initiatives and the assistance of the entire township staff, that these three supervisors have put the governance of the township on their backs, and begun to walk the slow and necessary steps back to normalcy.