WEST DECATUR — The majority of Monday evening’s Boggs Township Supervisors meeting — which was held in the parking lot to allow more people to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions — discussed recent findings from a forensic audit.
At last month’s meeting, Solicitor CJ Zwick announced that with a recent forensic audit performed by Fiore Fedeli Snyder Carothers LLP of Altoona, it found 126 “undocumented or unsubstantiated payments” that were made between 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and part of 2018 — that totaled $129,975.
The audit also showed that former Secretary/Treasurer Denise Dobo was overpaid 57 hours over the duration in vacation pay, while former Supervisor Jeff Baney, who died in January 2017, was overpaid 180.77 vacation hours. Former Supervisor Bill Dickson was overpaid 96 hours. For sick pay, Dobo, Baney and Dickson had a balance of 28, 77.5, and 32 hours, respectively.
Zwick said last month that if there was any “explicit wrongdoing, a final determination and additional services of the forensic auditor — and potentially others — would be required.”
At Monday’s meeting, resident Dana Droll presented the supervisors with a petition signed by 205 residents.
“Basically what the petition’s asking is that we pursue the investigation and criminal charges, and if criminal charges are warranted, they be brought forth,” Droll said.
Zwick said since the township met last month, leaders had discussions “at some length” with different entities — the forensic auditor, Clearfield County District Attorney Ryan Sayers and state police.
“The matter will be referred to the Pennsylvania State Police,” Zwick said. “I’m fairly confident that some level of investigation will occur. Where that investigation leads, I don’t think anybody knows. And obviously the Pennsylvania State Police, as a whole, are very capable of handling these types of issues. And I have confidence that they will do so with this issue specifically.”
Droll also asked why not have the audit done by a private firm instead of township auditors, to which the supervisors said that’s what they now do. However, previously that was not done.
“My concern is those four years that we’re talking about, there’s 30+ checks without invoices (per year),” Droll said. “How did those auditors not report those findings? I sat through three of those auditors meetings and never heard a word about invoices.”
Zwick said to be fair all around, he said while many of those likely should have been invoices, he said it’s not “uncommon for there to be recurring types of expenses that there wouldn’t necessarily be an invoice for.”
“And if they are recurring types of expenses, that takes the suspicion away to some extent from the omission of having invoices along with it,” Zwick said. “I get (Droll’s) point and the public accountant is taking care of it now.”
As far as what happened with the township and former employees previously, Zwick said they’ll leave that up to police to decide if anything should be done.
Questions then arose by many as to why not do a forensic bond on other years, citing that Dobo worked for the township for more than 30 years. Zwick saidthat, while he feels for the township’s perspective, that isn’t necessary.
“If we were to undertake that kind of project and expense, it wouldn’t behoove any of us ... it would be a huge undertaking and cost a lot of money,” Zwick said. “Hopefully, that is something that the Pennsylvania State Police, if they deem appropriate, will look at.”
A woman in the crowd then said, “and so if we have no faith in the state police, so the Attorney General is the next step?”
Zwick confirmed that would be the case, and the woman said, “There’s too many connections in this small town” to have state police conduct the investigation.
Zwick again reiterated the township will have the state police conduct the investigation and then they would go from there.
“They have a lot of resources,” Zwick said of the state police. Others said they’ve already contacted the Attorney General’s office on the matter.
Droll took umbrage with checks that were written out that were in the forensic audit, especially of those who left the township immediately thereafter.
“I hear what you’re saying,” Zwick responded. “But again, if it were a black and white issue, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it. But we are taking the steps forward to hopefully make some progress here and hand it off to law enforcement.”
When asked how would the residents be updated on the issue, Zwick said he can’t speak for police, but generally speaking, “the contents of a criminal investigation are not made public.” He also stated that updates typically wouldn’t even be made to the supervisors, let alone at a supervisors meeting.
CURWENSVILLE — In its first official action, Curwensville’s new property review board recommended four blighted borough properties to Curwensville Borough Council for immediate action.
At the board’s inaugural meeting Aug. 11, it analyzed a list of 22 properties in locations throughout the borough that are unoccupied or considered unkept or blighted. Properties on the list were referred for review by the board by members of the public, code enforcement and other agencies.
At Monday’s Curwensville Borough Council meeting, council members reviewed correspondence from the board endorsing sending official notices to the owners of structures on Second Avenue, Bloomington Avenue and Windy Hill Road. The letters from the borough will give each owner 90 days to complete remediation of the properties. A fourth property on George Street Extension was also recommended, but council heard there is a buyer interested and the sale has been verified.
Borough Secretary Terri Bracken, who is a member of the board, said the committee believes those four properties “are beyond repair.”
Council accepted the recommendation and approved sending notices to the owners of the three properties and will also send the same letter to the owner of the George Street Extension property if the sale does not take place.
Members of the property review board, appointed at council’s July 27 meeting, are: Chairman Hildred Rowles who is also a member of the Curwensville Borough Planning Commission, Vice Chairman Bernie Carfley, and Secretary/Treasurer Terri Bracken, who in addition to serving as the borough’s secretary/treasurer also oversees the borough’s code enforcement department. Other board members are Councilman Keith Simcox and resident Andrea Shaffer-Stewart. Robert Moore is council’s representative alternate.
Council adopted the ordinance at its July 15 meeting addressing vacant, blighted and abandoned borough properties. Under the ordinance, council was required to appoint a board to review those properties and recommend action regarding them to council.
The decree defines a vacant, blighted and and abandoned properties and requires a fee of $200 per building, per year, to be paid at the time of registration and each subsequent year at the time the registration is renewed. Owners must also note whether there is a mortgage on the property and provide proof of insurance and services — such as water, sewer, electric or gas.
It is the owner’s duty to maintain the property in compliance will all applicable codes, ordinances and provisions of local and state laws and regulations in place in the borough.
It defines an abandoned building as one whose maintenance is discontinued or is not used for 12 months in an 18-year period. Blighted structures are ones that are vacant, and because of its physical condition or use is regarded as a public nuisance or is dilapidated, unsanitary, unsafe, vermin-infested, a fire hazard or lacks facilities or equipment required under the borough’s housing or maintenance codes.
The ordinance also calls for those structures that are declared abandoned or blighted to be redeveloped, sold or leased for development if the owner fails to respond to notices sent by the borough or cannot be located.
Clearfield County Prison Board on Tuesday discussed the lack of space at the jail and whether the inmate population should be capped at the jail.
President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman said Warden David Kessling found a policy dating back to 2007 that is no longer applicable and is outdated.
The policy set the Clearfield County Jail’s capacity at 144 and once the inmate population reached 139, the warden was to notify county officials and they were to meet to find ways to keep the inmate population at less than 144.
In recent years the jail population has regularly exceeded 144 inmates.
Ammerman said they shouldn’t have a policy that caps the number of inmates.
However, Commissioner Dave Glass said he is willing to have the cap number adjusted, but said they should have an upper limit to the number of inmates in the jail for safety reasons, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we get one COVID-19 case in this jail with 174 people, there will be 100 cases before we know it,” Glass said. “We are setting ourselves up for a major problem if we don’t get this under control.”
Ammerman asked if Glass is arguing to have people set free because there is no room at the jail. Glass said once the cap is reached the county should transport inmates to other facilities.
District Attorney Ryan Sayers said it makes sense to set a limit on the number of inmates, but the problem with doing that now is they aren’t sure if Centre County or Jefferson County are taking any more outside inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county has housed inmates in the Centre and Jefferson county jails when it doesn’t have enough space in CCJ.
Kessling said he hasn’t checked with those jails recently on whether they would take inmates from Clearfield.
Glass asked if the county should use some of its CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security) Act funds to purchase more GPS ankle monitoring bracelets to allow more people to be placed on home detention.
Sayers said the county’s current policy is that inmates who get home detention should serve at least half of their sentence in the jail and asked Ammerman if the courts would be willing to waive this requirement on those who have short prison sentences like a 72-hour DUI sentence.
Ammerman said he would be willing to consider it on a case-by-case basis.
Kessling said he ordered 65 additional beds and they will be converting many of the single occupancy cells and converting them into double occupancy by installing bunk beds to expand the capacity at the jail.
He said the county has had an overcrowding problem at the jail for years and until they add more space it will continue to be a problem.
“We need more space,” Kessling said.
Kessling said over the past three years the county has spent a total of $877,000 to house inmates in other county jails and said they are close to having to put inmates in other jails because they are running out of space.
Kessling also said the facilities at the jail are in poor condition. For example, there are also several corners of the jail that have significant structural problems and the roof is leaking and needs to be replaced.
Commissioner Tony Scotto said he is skeptical about spending $25-$35 million to build a new jail and putting that cost on the taxpayers. He said it might be better to close the jail and house all inmates in other counties. But he said the county is having a study done to look into whether it would be feasible to add more space at the jail.
Sayers said perhaps it would be more economically feasible to build a large jail that could hold 500 inmates and house state inmates as well as inmates from other counties.
Commissioner John Sobel said several counties undertook jail expansion projects and they didn’t work out well financially for them.
The McClure Company is currently performing an assessment on what needs to be done at the jail. Glass said he spoke with someone with McClure who said right now the jail is safe, but it probably won’t be in five years if something isn’t done.
“We let this go too long,” Glass said. “We have a major problem with this facility. It will either need to be repaired, replaced or shut down. The status quo is completely unacceptable.”
Ammerman said he appreciates the difficulty of the decision the commissioners have in deciding what to do with the jail, but he said this is the commissioners decision.
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — With concerns rising in Pennsylvania that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots will be discarded in the presidential election over technicalities, officials in the presidential battleground told counties they aren’t allowed to reject a ballot solely because an election official believes a signature doesn’t match the one in the voter’s file.
The new guidance from Pennsylvania’s Department of State — that state law does not allow counties to set aside mail-in ballots based on their signature analysis — prompted the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh to drop a lawsuit in federal court Monday.
The groups had cited the lack of guidance on the subject and sought to ensure that voters have the chance to fix ballots that are flagged for a perceived signature mismatch.
“As a result of this case, Pennsylvania voters can cast their vote without fear that their ballot could be rejected solely because an election official — who isn’t trained in handwriting analysis — thinks their signatures don’t match,” said Mark Gaber, a Campaign Legal Center lawyer who represented the groups in court.
In Pennsylvania’s June 2 primary election alone, when 1.5 million voted by mail, more than 26,000 ballots were rejected, including for “signature-related errors or matters of penmanship,” the lawsuit had said.
One county election director, L. Edward Allison Jr. of Lawrence County, said that the state’s guidance is in line with his county’s practices and that he doubts it will be controversial with counties. One way of fixing it is to contact voters to come in to verify their signature, he said.
“We recognize the fact that, as people age, their signature changes, I know mine has,” Allison said in an interview. “Different medical conditions, strokes, all that kind of stuff enters into it.”
To a great extent, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the Legislature’s Republican majorities are clashing over how to prevent vast numbers of ballots from being discarded because of technicalities and how to head off the specter of a presidential election result hanging in limbo on a drawn-out vote count and legal fight in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court may rule in lawsuits on some of the outstanding issues, but Wolf, at a news conference on Tuesday in York, pressed lawmakers anew to act on changes he is seeking.
Republicans have said any changes must ensure the election is secure. Democrats accuse Republicans of pursuing voter suppression tactics, including trying to outlaw drop boxes and satellite election offices that Democrat-heavy counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, are planning to use.
To help count mail-in ballots quickly after polls close, Wolf wants to give counties up to three weeks before Election Day to start processing them, instead of the three days favored by Republicans.
To ensure fewer mail-in ballots are discarded, Wolf wants to require counties to count mail-in ballots that arrive up to three days after Election Day, provided they are postmarked before polls close. Republicans oppose that and would rather move the deadline by which voters can request a mail-in ballot, from a week before the election to 15 days before, to leave more time for voters to return it.
Without an agreement on legislation, “we really do risk becoming Florida in 2000,” state Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia, said.
A 2019 state law greatly expanded access to mail-in balloting in Pennsylvania and, fueled by concerns over the pandemic, more than 3 million voters are expected to cast ballots by mail in the Nov. 3 election.
That’s more than 10 times the number who voted by mail in Pennsylvania in 2016’s election when President Donald Trump’s 44,000-vote victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania helped propel him to the White House.
So far, nearly 1.9 million people have applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot, Wolf’s top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, said Tuesday.
For now, counties are still awaiting one court decision before they can get ballots printed and send them to voters who applied for a mail-in ballot.
In that case before the state Supreme Court, Democrats are trying to keep the Green Party’s presidential candidate off the Nov. 3 ballot.