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Chester County Press

Geoffrey Gamble's 'six-year contract' with Kennett Township

07/06/2021 03:32PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

From 2014 to 2019, Kennett Township resident Geoffrey Gamble commuted several times a year to Rome, Italy, where he served as a member of the Sovereign Council of the Order of Malta, which maintains 500 hospitals and clinics in developing countries. He was also appointed by Pope Francis as the Vatican’s honorary papal ambassador to missions and refugees around the world.

When Gamble returned home to Chester County two years ago, he saw that the township was entirely different than the one he once knew.

When I left, we used the State Police, and now we have more than ten township police officers,” he said. “When I left, the police department’s budget was about $300,000 and now it was north of $1 million.”

Most shocking of all to Gamble was the news that township manager Lisa Moore – with whom Gamble had once worked side by side with as the township’s auditor from 2001 to 2003 – had been arrested on Dec. 10, 2019 after an eight-month investigation by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, revealing that Moore allegedly embezzled more than $3.2 million from the township dating back to 2013, and charged with 115 felony counts and 26 misdemeanor counts involved in felony theft, forgery, computer crimes and related offenses.

To this day, Moore’s alleged actions still form a palpable dark cloud that hangs over Kennett Township, an unspeakable and consistent albatross that has chosen to hover over a municipality where questions about these injustices still far outnumber answers.

On June 2, Gamble sat at the head of a wooden table in a small historic cabin built in 1726 that stands on the six-acre Kennett Township property that he has shared with his wife Dorcas and his seven children – one boy and six girls, now grown and living elsewhere -- since 1985.

A recent power outage required a series of lit candles that illuminated the table and sent a faded golden glow around the cabin and Gamble himself, giving him the look of a general at an encampment plotting a Revolutionary War battle strategy.

Albeit a temporary location, the scene was apropos, because for the next hour, Gamble, a Republican, strategized about his decision to enter into a campaign to defeat incumbent and Democrat Whitney Hoffman this November and become the newest member of the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors beginning in January 2022.

Beside stacks of correspondence and initiatives, Gamble addressed the necessary evil that continues to remain Topic Number One in the township and will remain so when township residents go to the polls to elect either Gamble or Hoffman on Nov. 2.

‘Trust but Verify’

“Lisa Moore’s alleged actions could have been avoided,” Gamble said. “I listened to the presentation of the township’s 2019 audit and it revealed simple standard procedures, such as checks needing to be signed by two people, no rubber stamps featuring the signature of the board chairman, and not allowing one single person to bring in the money, categorize it and deposit it with no oversight, no nothing.

If those three procedures had already been in place, Lisa would not have gotten away with it. If I were a supervisor and had seen that checks were not counter signed, that there was a rubber stamp and that the entire financial picture of the township was going through one person’s hand – I would not have let that happen on my watch. It’s the old Ronald Reagan comment, ‘Trust but verify.’ I have been the township’s auditor and I know how the township mechanics work, and this was just wrong.”

While the southern Chester County community still awaits an ultimate legal decision on Moore, public speculation and opinions concerning the role that Scudder Stevens, Richard Leff and Hoffman played in the alleged heist have repeatedly claimed that while the supervisors were not guilty of Moore’s alleged wrongdoing, all three committed the crime of blind trust, giving a boatload of responsibilities to someone who seemingly had freewill of the township’s money for more than a decade.

“If something happens on your watch, you are responsible, whether fate has dealt you a bad hand or not,” Gamble said. “In this case, these supervisors are responsible and they did what a lot of boards do, which is to simply trust their underlings without any safeguards. Larceny may reside deep in someone’s soul, but if there are structures in place to prevent it, it never comes to the surface.”

Gamble said that in the aftermath of the Moore scandal, the township’s most pressing goal is to allow the prosecuting attorneys to do their part to enact justice on Moore, and place its emphasis on recovering the entire $3.2 million that the former manager allegedly stole, and to find out what happened to the money.

“The township’s emphasis should not so much be about her going to jail as it is in getting its money back,” he said. “I would have a private investigator try to find out what happened to the $3.2 million. Did she invest in real estate? Did she put it in someone else’s name? Where did it go?

“There is misinformation that the township recovered $1 million,” he added. “That was insurance compensation, so in reality, the township has only recovered less than $100,000 of the $3.2 million. Moreover, the township was woefully underinsured.”

Seeking one six-year term

Gamble’s professional career includes being the chief international counsel of the DuPont Company, serving as the board chairman for several business and trade commissions and committees and as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, giving off the appearance that transferring his skills and experience to the role of township supervisor would be an easy haul for him.

It won’t be.

As he kicks fully into his campaign against Hoffman, Gamble insists that the township’s major decisions in the near future that will impact its more than 8,500 residents will require a lot of heavy lifting, beginning with its need to increase its transparency.   

If elected, one of Gamble’s top priorities would be procedural in nature: to support the idea of establishing a five-person township board made up of Republicans and Democrats. Currently, the board is made of three Democrats, similar in proportion to the many years when Kennett Township’s board consisted of three Republicans.

“I think it is very unhealthy for any municipality to have all three supervisors of the same party,” Gamble said. “I think there needs to be a mix of both parties represented, which lends itself to more open discussion and public awareness, and increases the chance of having a blend of political affiliations.”

In support of his strong beliefs about term limits, Gamble insists that he would serve only one six-year term if he is elected.

“I have no other motive than to give back to a township that has been good to my family and me for a third of a century,” he said. “A six-year term as a supervisor is extraordinarily long, so the idea of someone serving two terms for 12 years or three terms for 18 years is wrong. There are dictators who don’t serve as long.”

If he is elected, Gamble will be sitting on a board with two Democrats beginning in January, and fully expects that he will be the lone dissenting vote for a majority of the most crucial decisions that need to be made.

“I have no personal agenda, so I am going to vote for what I think is right, even if it’s two to one,” Gamble said. “I’m going to vote on the issues, not on personality. I think [Stevens and Leff] will find that they are dealing with someone without a hidden agenda.”

A township playground?

Gamble said that during his one term, he would address several bullet-point aspirations and checks and balances now on the township’s agenda. While he said the current board has done a commendable effort in terms of preserving open space in the township, “I think now it’s time to give some attention to the people who walk on these preserved spaces,” Gamble said. “Unlike New Garden Township, this township has no nice playground, and young families need a place of their own to take their children within the township.”

He would also like to see the township become more “woke” to several national conscience-heightening movements.

“I was frankly infuriated by the township’s letter recognizing Black Lives Matter,” he said. “All lives matter! Where was the letter recognizing Kennett Township veterans on Memorial Day? Where is the recognition of Gay Pride Month? Where is the recognition of Juneteenth?”

Gamble also questioned the township’s financial commitment to build a trail adjacent to Chandler Mill Road. He said he had recently taken a few of his grandchildren on the road as part of their trek through the Kennett Greenway, and that during their time on the road, they encountered one vehicle.

To Gamble, it’s indicative of the township’s fiscal irresponsibility.

I asked myself, ‘Why are we spending a lot of money to build a parallel path, to massacre 300 trees beside a road that is a dead end and is used largely by the residents who live on the road?” he said. “I have to question the judgment of that, because that’s how our taxes go up.

“The people in power now have depleted our reserve from $10 million to somewhere south of $3 million. I don’t want to be perceived as an anti-tax and anti-spend curmudgeon, but there needs to be some balance, and I want to bring some sense of proportion and reason to our spending. Maybe we need to initiate the idea of saving the money before we build projects, so as not to spend it and be subsequently forced to run around with a shortfall and raise taxes.

“I think that when personnel expansions take place like the ones that have happened in the township over the past five years, it merits close scrutiny on need and efficiency,” he added. “I see many on fixed incomes and the tax rate rising, so we have to be careful that we are not forcing people into unaffordability to live in our township. The only way to restructure that is to not to spend as much.” 

Open to a debate with opponent

As summer becomes fall and the season of political campaigns goes from mild to smoldering, so does the temperature of the issues and the need to express them. Gamble said that he would welcome the opportunity to debate Hoffman, whom he refreshingly sees as his opponent and not his enemy.

I would say to Whitney that while it has been very commendable of her to have made COVID-19 masks for members of the community, that’s not a supervisor’s job,” he said. “The supervisor’s job is to supervise the running of the township. I would ask her, ‘What do you think you have accomplished over the past six years? Not Scudder and not Richard, but what have you done for the township?

“She may have a whole list of wonderful things she has done, but I guarantee that a lot of them will not have to do with being supervisor.”

According to Gamble, effective municipal government is one that reaches – through whatever means – the citizens it governs, while engaging them to become more present. Within that paradigm, he sees his potential role as a supervisor in the form of what he calls a “six-year contract” with the residents of the township.

“I have no hidden agenda,” he said. “I have no future in politics after this six-year term. I am only interested in the township and its best interests.

I don’t care who likes me and who does not. All I wish to do after those six years are up is be able to have done a good job for Kennett Township.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].