Tredyffrin officials inconsistent in ethics decisions . . . yes, doesn’t that newspaper headline say it all? The editorial appearing in today’s Daily Local newspaper offers its reader their ‘take’ on Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting. For the newspaper to have reviewed the Pitcairn vs supervisors solicitation situation, and then to state, ” . . . after a review of both situations, we think she’s [Benson] right. . . ” — was just the vindication I need! Thank you Daily Local for this editorial and for really getting ‘it’! Below is the complete editorial:
Daily Local Opinion
Tredyffrin officials inconsistent in ethics decisions
Published: Monday, April 26, 2010
Do township supervisors’ fundraising efforts in Tredyffrin constitute an unethical conflict of interest for the township — and more to the point, do they do so in the same way that those supervisors decided, some time ago, an “in-kind” gift worth $50,000 would have for the Historic Preservation Trust?
Pattye Benson, the president of the trust, thinks that if the donation offered to her nonprofit organization was unethical, donations for firefighters — especially from companies and individuals that do business with the township — were too.
And after a review of both situations, we think she’s right. If it would indeed have been unethical for the trust to accept the gift, it was unethical for the supervisors to solicit donations — at the very least, donations from businesses, which they did.
Situation 1: In 2008, Pitcairn, a company in a final review of negotiations with the township for a land-development deal, offered the trust an in-kind gift (that is, a donation of goods or services rather than cash).
Benson didn’t know a thing about the deal. But Judy DiFilippo, a board member on the trust, did: she was also a township supervisor. The township, concerned that it would look like Pitcairn was getting the development deal in return for the gift, told Benson she had to turn it down, which she did.
Situation 2: The supervisors were not able to find the funds to budget the normal contribution to the fire companies that serve the township. To attempt to cover the costs, Supervisors Bob Lamina, Warren Kampf and Paul Olson personally solicited cash donations — including from Comcast, which is currently negotiating a contract with the township. They collected $23,200 total.
These are the facts available, and the situations are parallel. Were the donations themselves, both offered and collected, in fact unethical, creating a pay-to-play situation? We’re not sure. Any gift could create that appearance; should, then, businesses never donate to locally beneficial causes?
This seems absurd, suggesting that the potential conflicts of interest should be transparently discussed, but not that they should be universally turned down. And in fact, in this instance, the active solicitation by the supervisors creates much more of a “pay-to-play” aura than the offer which originated with Pitcairn.
The supervisors have claimed that they were acting as private citizens. But in that guise, why didn’t DiFilippo count as a private citizen when Pitcairn offered its donation? And more to the point, are the supervisors seriously suggesting that the companies that do business with the township somehow, on some level, forgot who the supervisors were — something they’re at great pains to establish firmly during elections?
We’re not suggesting it’s bad to collect money for fire companies. We think the donations in question might not be unethical, in both cases. We are pointing out that it is, in fact, inconsistent for the township supervisors to act out of concern for appearances in one instance, while actively creating that appearance in another. The large size of the gift offered by Pitcairn and the fact that fire companies are, for most people, more emotionally charged organizations than historic trusts do not make the situations different at base.
We also think it added insult to injury when Chairman Bob Lamina told Benson, “I’m disappointed in you, Pattye. This was a win-win for the fire companies that one individual here today tried to diminish,” and questioned her motives for challenging the fundraiser. Yes, she might very well be personally miffed. But that doesn’t make her wrong — and in that situation, we might be miffed too.