Sheila McLaughlin reports:
An outgoing West Chester trustee’s parting shot this week was aimed at the township’s fiscal officer.
Trustee Catherine Stoker called Tuesday for investigations by the county prosecutor and state ethics commission after accusing Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones of illegally revealing information from a legal opinion.
It’s the latest development in an ongoing feud between Jones and Stoker, who had supported one of his challengers, Christy Miller, in the 2011 election.
The move comes two years after Stoker and Trustee Lee Wong voted to keep Jones, who was elected in November 2011, from attending executive sessions.
It was Stoker’s final act as a trustee and at her final meeting. The 20-year veteran trustee was edged out of her seat in the November election.
Jones’ recent trouble stems from a Nov. 3 email distributed to The Enquirer and others accusing Stoker and Wong of snubbing him by barring him from the closed-door sessions. He alluded to a legal opinion from the township’s law director that they said allowed them to do that.
Jones also complained that the township racked up 50 hours of legal work on the opinion, costing taxpayers $13,527. He cited specific details of services from township invoices, such as “research fiscal officer duties,” and “review initial draft of opinion letter.”
“The details are not public record. They came from an invoice from Frost Brown Todd to the township. The details are attorney client-privilege,” Stoker told The Enquirer Wednesday.
“My belief is that Bruce Jones knew that revealing attorney-client privileged information, specifically invoices coming from legal services were privileged. It’s illegal to reveal any of those.”
By state law, a fiscal officer is required to keep records of all a township’s accounts and transactions. The officer also has to record and keep minutes of trustee meetings, issue checks, prepare payrolls and prepare tax forms.
Trustee George Lang voted against the investigations saying he needed to research the issue before he decided.
“It’s a very drastic step and I want to make sure it’s necessary,” Lang said.
“If it’s not a public record, it should be,” Jones said Wednesday. “It’s taxpayer dollars. It infuriates me on multiple levels that they think they can withhold it just because they say so.”
Stoker denied banning Jones from executive sessions, saying he attended a single secret meeting since he took office.
Jones replaced Pat Williams who had been the township’s fiscal officer for close to 40 years. Williams routinely attended executive sessions, Stoker said.
“Every time an issue came up … we could look over at Pat. She was a gold mine of information. Pat Williams used to run this township with the department heads before we hired a township administrator.”
As for Jones’ presence in the closed-door meetings, Stoker said, “Why on earth would we have some looky-loo whose job description and background and information have absolutely zero to do with the discussions at hand … sitting in there?”
Stoker included Jones’ Nov. 3 allegedly criminal email to The Enquirer in her own email offering comment on the situation. She also included it in a Nov. 4 mass email in which she responded to Jones’ email the day before. Asked if she had committed the same alleged crime, Stoker denied it.
“You have to understand, Bruce Jones put it out there on Nov. 3. I believe he sent it to hundreds of people. So am I supposed to say it’s a secret what he did?” she said. “That’s evidence of his lawbreaking. How can you bring evidence of improper action without bringing evidence of the improper action?”
In the Nov. 4 email obtained by The Enquirer, Stoker wrote that all the township’s legal bills and invoices were public records.
“In fact, everyone has access to all our public records. Our legal bills included. Anyone can come to the Township Administration building and ask to see all our records, including our legal invoices,” Stoker wrote.
“There are no secret deals being hatched improperly behind closed doors – except in my opinion in Mr. Jones’ fevered imagination.”