By Kaylee Lindenmuth
SHEPPTON - East Union Township has a new treasurer, and a second highway commercial district in the township after Wednesday afternoon's meeting of township supervisors.
Township supervisors approved both motions, and the resignation of former treasurer Mary Stitzer, Sheppton, in a meeting attended by roughly 40 township residents.
The vote on the rezoning application was the lone agenda item under old business. If approved, 33 acres of land owned by L&B Landholding, LLC in Sheppton would be rezoned from Conservation Residential (CR) to Highway Commercial (C2). Two acres of the property may house a Dollar General, which the company says is in its due diligence phase. Residents expressed concerns at a July public hearing about why all 33 acres would be rezoned, when only two had a proposed use.
Prior to the vote, the public, again, had the opportunity to comment.
Thomas Houser, Sheppton, stepped up to the podium and asked supervisors about a letter submitted to the county zoning board by the applicant, regarding advice and how the rezoning fit with the county's comprehensive plan.
Solicitor Joseph Baranko noted that the township received a copy of the letter, added it to the record, and noted the county did not believe it adhered to the comprehensive plan.
Prior to the vote, Baranko reiterated a memorandum written by solicitor John Biros disclosing a conflict of interest in the matter.
"I am going to abstain from voting and publicly announce and disclose a conflict of interest relative to the pending application upon the following basis: I am a property owner that will be affected by the rezoning application request, being directly within the proposed rezoned area; In addition, a member of my immediate family, namely my son Jonathan Biros, is associated with the applicant L&B Landholding, LLC, being a member of the LLC as identified," said Baranko, reading Biros' statement.
Baranko noted that he had contacted the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission regarding exceptions to the abstention, particularly in cases of a split vote rendering the board unable to take action, and that he'd received qualification on them.
"Attorney Baranko, excuse me one minute, but I have some questions on this reply that you got back from the ethics commission," said supervisor Dennis Antonelli. "First of all, they did not give an opinion."
"What they gave me is the opinion that's existing," said Baranko.
"Well, I looked at that opinion, and that's an entirely different scenario from what we have," said Antonelli.
"If you take a look at the conclusions regarding the voting requirements, it's not," said Baranko.
"Well, I understand the voting requirements, but I still don't think that he does have the authority to vote," said Antonelli. "I'm going to ask you at this time, are you going to take full responsibility for that?"
"I am," said Baranko.
Baranko then asked for a motion on the matter. Supervisors chairman John Dettery made a motion to grant the rezoning request. Antonelli declined to second the motion. Baranko then permitted Biros to motion, at which point he seconded Dettery's.
The vote was then split 1-1, with Dettery voting for, and Antonelli against. Baranko again permitted Biros to vote on the matter, who cast the deciding vote.
According to the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission website's restricted activities page, "[n]o public official or public employee shall engage in conduct that constitutes a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is defined as use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family, or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated."
The page continues, "[w]here voting conflicts are not otherwise addressed by the Constitution of Pennsylvania or by any law, rule, regulation, order or ordinance, the following procedure shall be employed. Any public official or public employee, who in the discharge of his official duties, would be required to vote on a matter that would result in a conflict of interest shall abstain from voting and, prior to the vote being taken, publicly announce and disclose the nature of his interest as a public record in a written memorandum filed with the person responsible for recording the minutes of the meeting at which the vote is taken, provided that whenever a governing body would be unable to take any action on a matter before it because the number of members of the body required to abstain from voting under the provisions of this section makes the majority or other legally required vote of approval unattainable, then such members shall be permitted to vote if disclosures are made as otherwise provided herein,"
"In the case of a three-member governing body of a political subdivision, where one member has abstained from voting as a result of a conflict of interest, and the remaining two members of the governing body have cast opposing votes, the member who has abstained shall be permitted to vote to break the tie vote if disclosure is made as otherwise provided herein," the page concludes, though it's unclear if the exception applies in the case of bringing a motion to the table.
At the end of the final public comment portion, Houser asked if the rezoning of the full parcel could be considered spot zoning.
"Spot zoning, according to what I read, is a rezoned area that's surrounded by light zones," said Houser, noting the property is surrounded on three sides by conservation residential.
Baranko noted that, in his opinion, opponents would see it as spot-zoning, and proponents would see it as exclusionary, considering the only other C-2 zone in the township is in the former Brandonville Industrial Park, and added that he is neither, and would let the courts decide.
In other business, township supervisors accepted the resignation of former treasurer Mary Stitzer, Sheppton, and approved the hiring of a new treasurer, Michael Gaizick, at a salary of $6,000 a year.
Stitzer resigned following a meeting where pay raises for her position were questioned, after they weren't present in meeting minutes
According to Stitzer at the July meeting of township supervisors, she began in January 2014 at a rate of $6,000 a year, and later requested a pay raise to $10,560 a year, which she said was approved by supervisors, though no meeting minutes reflected such a decision.
Stitzer was not present at Wednesday's meeting, though a notarized letter drafted by chairman Dettery was brought up at council, noting Dettery verbally approved the raises.
"I understand that, Mr. Dettery, that you signed a paper saying that you approved Ms. Stitzer's pay raise in March of 2014, after you sat here at two months' meetings that you knew nothing about it, you knew nothing about the pay raise, but you went and signed it and had it notarized by a local notary, is this true?" asked Pam Hartz, Sheppton.
"Yeah. Let me explain that," said Dettery.
"Please do, please do," said Hartz."
"When that was brought here, to the board, it was stated her pay raise recently, and I said no, there were no pay raises (recently)," said Dettery.
"No it was not recently," said Hartz.
"That's correct," said Dettery.
"There's nothing in the minutes to reflect any pay raise," said Antonelli.
"She came to me, I said I'm one board member. I said, we'll put it on the agenda for next meeting, which was never done," said Dettery. "I have no problem with it, but I'm only one, I said."
Antonelli then read a copy of Dettery's letter.
"I, John Dettery, hereby state that I approved raises given to Mary Stitzer in February 2014, and January 2015. All raises were approved verbally by me, as she held her position as treasurer for East Union Township since January 2014 until present," said Antonelli reading the letter. "Do you have any comments on this, attorney?"
Baranko noted it should be forwarded to the auditors.
Hartz, along with others in attendance and Antonelli called for Dettery's resignation as a result.
"What you're doing here, you're authorizing a raise, that's why she took the raise," said Antonelli. "You shouldn'tve even signed that. You're authorizing a raise. You did it on your own.
"It can't be done on your own," said Dettery.
"Then why did you fill this paper out, then?" asked Antonelli.
Dettery then reiterated that he told Stitzer he was one board member, and he'd look into it. Antonelli questioned why Dettery said, at two meetings, he knew nothing about the raises, despite the letter, to which Dettery said he knew nothing of any recent pay raises.
"As far as I'm concerned, John, you have no credibility at all," said Antonelli. "You should resign from this position.
Baranko then, again, deferred the letter to the auditors.
Robert Gabardi, chairman of the board of auditors for the township, then asked the township for permission to seek independent counsel for the matter, to see who is responsible for the overpayment, to which supervisors granted permission.
In other business, supervisors opened bids for the Oneida Stormwater Project, awarding the project to M&J Excavating.