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Chester County Press

Ethics Commission rejects complaints about Kennett Township manager

12/27/2021 09:48PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Pennsylvania Ethics Commission last week tossed out a complaint recently filed by Kennett Township resident Peter Doehring that claimed current township manager Eden Ratliff’s affiliation with the Longwood Fire Company (LFC) was a conflict of interest and led to what Doehring claimed was a violation of the state’s Public and Employee Ethics Act.

Doehring, who lost in his bid to become a township supervisor earlier this year, also claimed that Ratliff’s affiliation with LFC served as a major influence in the township’s 2-1 board vote in 2021 that ended the township’s fire and EMS partnership with Kennett Fire Company (KFC) and made LFC the primary fire, rescue and EMS response service to the township.

In its decision, the state Commission said that Doehring had presented no evidence of his claims. 

Doehring began his blistering attacks on Ratliff at the end of a live and virtual Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 15, when during a public comment session, he read a statement that questioned the validity of the township to consolidate its fire and EMS services, Ratliff’s influence on the decision and his “questionable practices,” and the township’s inability to take on “any meaningful actions to investigate, much less substantively address, any of these issues.”

In his statement, Doehring said that he was concerned that Ratliff – as well as supervisors Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman, who both voted in favor of the reorganization -- were making misleading claims about how using LFC as its exclusive provider of fire, rescue and EMS services would save money and improve public safety.

Doehring then compared Ratliff’s alleged misdeeds to those of former township manager Lisa Moore, who was convicted and sentenced on Oct. 4 to a minimum of three years in a state prison for stealing $3.2 million from the township.

“Just last week, we listened to a detailed analysis of the many ways that Lisa Moore deceived these same supervisors, all of whom expressed regrets that they had not acted earlier on their suspicions of questionable practices, and then enumerated the astronomical costs of cleaning up the resulting damage,” Doehring said. “Now once again our supervisors seem to be ignoring the warning signs of another township manager, whose own questionable practices are leading to ever-increasing costs that will soon be passed on to taxpayers.”

Doehring’s statements against Ratliff on Dec. 15 were just the beginning. Around that time, he sent a letter to every township household outlining his “serious concerns about rising costs, degrading services, conflicts of interest, and the supervisors’ continued inaction,” and created a website – – that further illuminates his claims against Ratliff. 

Additional accusations against the township manager

Doehring saved his deepest dive against Ratliff for his ethics complaint to the State Ethics Commission. In it, he referenced the PA Public and Employee Ethics Act’s definition of “conflict of interest,” and aligned it with his claims that Ratliff repeatedly used the authority of his office and confidential information received through his affiliation with the LFC.

During the 2021 Fire/EMS Reorganization between Feb. 3 and April 15, Doehring wrote, the township’s supervisors voted to implement a series of recommendations, “primarily developed and promoted by Ratliff,” that resulted in a major reorganization of how fire and EMS service would be delegated throughout the township, which had up to the reorganization been divided between LFC and KFC.

“As a result of this reorganization, LFC ended up with a monopoly of EMS, and a monopoly of fire dispatching,” Doehring’s complaint said. “This reorganization significantly advantaged LFC financially while significantly disadvantaging KFC. Subsequently, Ratliff was intensively involved with conducting purportedly unbiased research and leading supposedly good faith negotiations involving KFC, LFC, and the six-municipality Kennett Fire and EMS Regional Commission.”

Doehring’s ethics complaint further said that between Oct. 20, 2020 and April 15, 2021, Ratliff, his wife Gabrielle and brother became regular members of LFC volunteer staff, which Doehring said Ratliff did not let KFC, the township, the Commission or the general public know about until April 15, 2021, when the reorganization was finalized by the township.

Doehring’s complaint also pointed to the hiring of Ratliff’s wife Gabrielle to become the LFC’s new executive secretary in late October, the job posting of which stated “This position involves a high degree of confidential information to which the employee will be held accountable for not disclosing.” 

“This has placed her in a key role as a major [township] services vendor which has derived significant pecuniary advantage from the Fire/EMS reorganization recently engineered primarily by Ratliff himself,” the ethics complaint read. “The hiring of Ratliff’s wife transpired without LFC, Ratliff, or Ratliff’s wife informing [the township or the Commission] in advance.”

“Ethical concerns”

Doehring was not alone in his complaints about Ratliff. 

In her two-page letter to the State Ethics Commission on Dec. 15, Kennett Borough Council President Brenda Mercomes raised “ethical concerns” regarding Ratliff’s connection to the Kennett Fire and EMS Regional Commission, an inter municipal fire and emergency services group that serves six area municipalities and three fire companies in overseeing the funding for operating and capital expenses for the fire companies and EMS services.   Specifically, Mercomes addressed Ratliff’s continuing influence on the Commission, given that he had once been an alternate member “but no longer serves in that role (at least during the immediate relevant period of this inquiry,” Mercomes wrote. 

“However, he continues to attend the Commission meetings on behalf of [Kennett Township], to provide support to the Commission, including on behalf of the township, and to advocate for the Commission to take certain positions through his role as township manager,” Mercomes wrote.

Kennett Township’s response

In a statement now available on the township’s website, the township refuted Doehring’s attacks on Ratliff, calling them “irresponsible allegations.”

“The Kennett Township Supervisors solidly support Eden Ratliff against these unfair and personal attacks,” Leff said. “Plus – Eden’s expertise in policy-making and consensus-building combined with his years of volunteering, training and certifications in fire and EMS matters were invaluable in making sure everything in the Regional Fire and EMS Response Plan was done in full compliance with regulations and procedures. All of us are safer and more secure as a result.”

The statement also stated that the leadership of LFC and KFC are “ecstatic” with the result of the township’s reorganization of its fire, rescue and EMS.

“Cooperation and camaraderie between [LFC and KFC] is also dramatically increased, along with more cross training and support,” Leff added. “Nevertheless, we continue to monitor this new regional response plan to ensure its continued effectiveness in a cost-conscious manner.”

In further addressing Doehring’s and Mercomes’ claims, Cuyler Walker, the chairman of the Kennett Fire and EMS Regional Commission, said that Ratliff had in fact fully disclosed his relationships with LFC; that neither Ratliff nor his wife have authority to allocate or distribute Commission funds to LFC; that Ratliff’s analysis, research and recommendations as a township manager were constructive and beneficial; and that none of the members of the Commission found Ratliff’s pro bono relationships with LFC constitute a conflict of interest.

“I encourage everyone to be cautious in believing Peter Doehring’s irresponsible allegations,” Leff concluded. “Keep in mind, the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission wasted no time in dismissing his entire complaint.”

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