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Chester County Press

Lucas, Muller vie for seat on Kennett Township board

11/01/2023 11:30AM ● By Richard Gaw

With the election or appointment of every new supervisor or staffer, Kennett Township continues to distance itself from the horrific chaos surrounding the investigation of former manager Lisa Moore for embezzling more than $3.2 million from township funds – and her conviction in 2021. 

Dotted among its new policies and its revamped checks and balance system of accounting are new faces that have tightened the once dangling chord of a municipality, and in early January of next year, yet another new face will join the fold. 

Republican Steve Lucas and Democrat Pat Muller are campaigning for the right to serve a six-year term on the Board of Supervisors as a replacement for Scudder Stevens, who announced earlier this year that he would not pursue a possible third term on the board. While Muller campaigns for the board with experience on township commissions, Lucas is a newcomer to township government.

Recently, the Chester County Press conducted separate interviews with the two candidates to hear their opinions on three key issues: why they wish to serve on the board; pressing issues facing the township; and how they will continue to restore residents’ faith and confidence in their local government. (Note: Responses have been edited for space.)

Why do you want to serve on the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors?

Lucas: I have never been in politics before and never run for an office, but what’s happening is that my wife and I love living in Kennett Township, and I want to help with whatever I can with my finance and engineering background so that the township can use my expertise on the board. I’ve been in finance for 18 years, and I work with individuals all the time balancing budgets – making sure the costs are justified in spending. As an owner of a company, I am responsible for everything, and I need to make sure that what I do is profitable and makes sense for my clients, and I can do that for the township, as well.

Numbers make sense to me and if they don’t make sense, I am going to ask questions until they do.

Muller: I’ve done a lot of work for the township and in the area for a long time, and I have gotten to know this area on a deep level and know the people who have been instrumental. I think that I am uniquely qualified for the place on the board and that my breadth of experience gives me a point of view that my opponent doesn’t have. As an outside consultant with the township while Lisa Moore was manager.  I saw that whole debacle unfold and have seen it rebuild itself like a phoenix from the ashes. I believe in the township’s overriding message of creating livable communities of neighbors, and I think we’re losing some of that in our harsher political discourse.

I would like to keep that focus and that collegiality, and hopefully expand upon it to help when we can, to keep control of township expenses and continue to foster a sense of community in a livable place for everybody – not just the ultra-wealthy and bedroom commuters, but for the people who own small businesses and work in the community. 

In my work with the Planning Commission, I was able to help rewrite zoning and create a Traditional Neighborhood Design code to encourage affordable housing and livable communities in Kennett Township. I believe that was a very important and positive step toward creating a more livable community.

As you continue to campaign, what are leading topics of concern from the residents you have met, and if elected, how will you address those concerns? 

Lucas: One of the major points that comes up when I speak with voters is the expenses that just seem to continue to increase at the township. The big expense that is hitting us now is looking at what we want to do with our police department. Several years ago, we didn’t have a police department, then we added an officer and then two and now we have 9 officers and are making plans to expand the department to 14, perhaps 16 people. I am a strong supporter of the police, and I want to have a safe community, but I think that we need to take this to the voters and let them decide the future of our police department.

A few years ago, they had a referendum on open space. I think we need to do the same thing now. Let’s take it to the voters of Kennett Township and let them decide whether we want to maintain a full-time police force, or explore other options.

I’m here to listen; whatever the voters want to do, I’ll do it, but let’s ask the voters first. Having a referendum would be a good way to get that input from voters. We need to invite experts involved with police operations, in order to make an informed choice about it.

Muller:  I have knocked on a lot of doors and many people have told me that they love the open space and that everything is fine, but the people who have expressed their concerns to me are those on a fixed income. The fact that what comes in from social security and other pension income is a fixed number that will never change is concerning. There are some who have expressed concerns about township spending, and I have told them that it’s a balancing act, because we are who we are: We need fire and EMS coverage. We need police coverage. What I hope to bring to the board is my experience in banking and finance to help rein in spending and my creative experience in knowing the community, and trying to find some economies of scale where we can work with other municipalities to help share costs. 

Over the last several years, Kennett Township was rocked by a scandal that threatened its financial stability and severely damaged residents’ faith in their local government. In spite of the township’s improvement to its accounting systems and transparency, it’s a sentiment that still lingers. If you are elected to the board, how will you continue to restore residents’ confidence in their local government?

Lucas: This issue is another reason why I am running. My wife and I moved here four years ago, and our first introduction to the township was the theft of $3.2 million by Lisa Moore. We were flabbergasted that it happened. ‘How could this happen and why?’ we asked. You could say that I don’t have any direct experience managing a government, but I would counter by saying that it is my strongest offering. I am objective, I have finance experience behind me, and I also have the accountability that my military background gives me. The role I had in the military was that of a company commander, and I was held accountable for everything in that unit – to review and hold others accountable.

I want the voters to know that I am an expert at budgets, income statements and expenses and that I have the experience to hold the township accountable for what’s happening here.

Muller:   Marketing and messaging are my strong suits, and one of the unwritten jobs of being a supervisor is serving as a cheerleader and advocate. As a supervisor, I will continue to be vocal and supportive of the amazing work that people like [Finance and Human Resource Director] Amy Heinrich and [township Manager] Eden Ratliff and their staff are doing to build a better system of checks and balances. Now that the new financial infrastructure is in place, the township is in a position of being able to try to pare back spending, find economies of scale and find smarter and better ways of working.

There are challenges facing the township, but I think as a supervisor, it’s important to celebrate the township and its accomplishments, the smartness of the decision-makers and the staff and respect the people who want to come to the table to express their concerns. Determining the financial path for a township is complicated, and the role of a supervisor is to take the vote, make the hard choices, be a true leader and celebrate the many things that Kennett Township does well, and there are who lot of things that this township does well. 

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