Monday, October 13, 2014
Dolan Grand Jury Report - A Wake Up Call to Local Officials Involved in NonProfits
The Dolan Grand Jury heard from 20 witnesses. Among them is Robert P. Caruso, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission (See pages 37 - 40). He explained that the Ethics Act exists to prevent the private interests of people in public office from conflicting with the public trust.
According to Caruso, it is unlawful for any public official to use his public position for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he is associated. That includes nonprofits. Caruso states that if a public official is a director, officer or employee of a non-profit, and that person through his public responsibilities engages in conduct that facilitates or attempts to facilitate a financial benefit to that nonprofit,that conduct is a "conflict of interest" as that term is defined under the State Ethics Act.
The Ethics Commission can recommend felony charges be brought for violations
Caruso was asked specifically about Dolan, and concluded her conduct is a potential violation. It makes no difference whether she was actually being paid.
He was not asked about Nazareth, but the actions in that government is a potential violation as well.
In early September, I first told you about Nazareth Ambulance, a nonprofit staffed by paramedics and EMTs who provide emergency care to the sick and injured in the Nazareth area, including Gracedale. I have no quarrel with Nazareth Ambulance itself, which does outstanding work. My concern is with its board. It's comprised almost entirely of people who already have a role in Nazareth government.
According to the 2012 nonprofit tax return for Nazareth Ambulance, the most recent one on record, its eight-member board included Nazareth's Treasurer, the Nazareth Borough Solicitor, the Mayor, the Borough Council President and a Borough Council member. I have no idea whether that's still the case, but suspect it is.
In 2013, when Nazareth Borough Council voted to condemn 9 acres (J7-16-2a), which is part of the new ambulance center. None of the ambulance directors recused themselves from the vote. They used the authority of their office (Borough Council) for the private pecuniary benefit of a business (Nazareth Ambulance) with which they are associated. It is unknown whether any Council members or the other borough officials are paid in connection with their board duties. But it does not matter. They engaged in a conflict of interest.
In 2012, when Nazareth applied for a $50,000 County Gaming Grant to extend G.W. Stoudt Boulevard from from its current terminus at the Highway Garage to intersect with Gracedale Avenue in Upper Nazareth, Nazareth makes clear that the grant was for the benefit of Nazareth Ambulance, not borough residents. With this road extension, response time to Gracedale would improve. So would response time to the western portion of Upper Nazareth.road, But none of that has anything to do with the Borough. The Borough officials who prepared this grant request were also members of the Ambulance Board. This is a conflict of interest.
In September, right after I told Nazareth Borough Council about this conflict of interest, members till unanimously voted on at least one matter involving the ambulance company. Dan Chiavaroli,, the Council President, did abstain in the second matter.
Like Bethlehem,Nazareth and probably most Lehigh Valley communities need to enact policies and procedures to guard against future conflicts of interest.