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Chester County Press

Resident continues to press Kennett Township on investigation of manager

02/08/2022 05:03PM ● By Richard Gaw

Kennett Township manager Eden Ratliff        Photo courtesy of Kennett Township

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Kennett Township resident Peter Doehring, a former candidate for the township’s Board of Supervisors, recently furthered his efforts in shining additional glare on what he believes is a conflict of interest committed by township manager Eden Ratliff.

During the public comment portion of the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Feb. 2, Doehring inquired about the status of a Right to Know Law request form he submitted to the Township Pennsylvania Office of Open Records on Jan. 6 that requests an electronic copy of any Requests for Advisory Opinions submitted by Ratliff to the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission and the Commission’s response – all related to a an official complaint Doehring recently filed to the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission that targeted Ratliff.

On Jan. 13, Ratliff -- who is also the township’s open records officer – replied to Doehring in a letter sent by email about Doehring’s Jan. 6 request.  Ratliff indicated to Doehring that the request was being reviewed, given that a legal review is necessary to determine whether the record is subject to access under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, and that Doehring’s request is expected to be responded to on Feb. 12.

We are continuing to pursue our own inquiries into Eden Ratliff’s conflicts of interests, parallel to the township’s own investigation,” Doehring told the board. “As you know – and as we have recently documented on – Eden is now delaying or denying all right to know requests we submitted for related information, effectively stifling any public inquiries into his conflict. As long as we expect that every request will delayed and that some would be denied, we’re left with no choice but to increase the number of formal right to know request.

“What action, if any, has the board of supervisors taken to ensure that such requests are responded to promptly, and in accordance with the spirit of the right to know law?”

Doehring’s comments are the latest layer in his claims that Ratliff’s affiliation with Longwood Fire Company (LFC) represents a violation of the state’s Public and Employee Ethics Act – one that Doehring claims 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.

Doehring first publicly aired his grievances at the end of a live and virtual Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 15, 2021 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 board chairman Richard Leff and former supervisor 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 later submitted an official complaint to the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission,

in which he wrote that during the 2021 Fire/EMS Reorganization between Feb. 3 and April 15, 2021, 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.

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 nor the general public know about until April 15, 2021, when the reorganization was finalized by the township. Doehring also pointed to the hiring of Ratliff’s wife Gabrielle to become the LFC’s new executive secretary in late October as further evidence of Ratliff’s influence.

The Commission later tossed out the claim, stating that Doehring had not presented any evidence supporting his claim.

Responding to Doehring’s Feb. 2 comments and inquiry, township solicitor David Sander said that all right to know requests are governed by the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, which regulates submitting, receiving, processing requests and responding to requests.

“When a resident submits a request [to the township], they are received by Eden, the township’s open records officer, who is required by law to examine the requests, if necessary run it by legal counsel and respond to it pursuant to the law,” Sander said.

Under the law, Sander said, letters requesting right to know information from the township must be replied to in five working days from the township, and may invoke a 30-day extension period to allow the township to respond appropriately to those requests.

When that 30 days is up, the township will reply in writing to the person requesting information – either to grant the request and supply records or to deny the request in part or in full,” Sander said. “At that point, the requester has the right to appeal any unfavorable response to the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg, which is reviewed and acted on by the office.”

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