Barakat resigns as CF township manager

Joe Barakat is stepping down as Chadds Ford Township manager after 3-and-a-half years in the position. His last day in the office will be Dec. 21.

He accepted a position in the manufacturing field. Barakat said he was offered the job in October. However, the resignation came less than a week after residents began to publicly question his abilities.

"That meeting was a witch-hunt against Joe Barakat," he said referring to himself in the third person.

Tax collector Valerie Hoxter and former tax collector Bruce Prabel raised the issue during the Dec. 5 Board of Supervisors’ meeting when they said the township had been under assessed for three years because an estimated 150 Certificates of Occupancy and permits had not been sent to the county assessors. This resulted, Prabel said, in a loss of $400,000 to $500,000 between the township, county and the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.

Township officials said at the time that the paperwork had been filed, but it’s the county’s responsibility to follow up.

(ChaddsFordLive has contacted the Delaware County Assessor’s office for clarification. Messages have been left, but the person who works on Chadds Ford assessments has not yet responded.)

Hoxter said she and Barakat discussed the matter as far back as early 2010 or late 2009. Township resident Samantha Reiner, the manager of Edgmont Township, said during the meeting that the COs had not been conveyed properly since Barakat took office.

Barakat said the allegations are untrue, that the COs and permits were filed properly. He added that he has saved the township hundreds of thousands of dollars during his tenure as township manager.

“I’ve looked at every type of cost the township occurs. When your budget is $600,00 to $700,000, you’re not going to be saving millions. There are not $1 million opportunities to save money,” he said.

Barakat said he’s looked at all costs, big and small to save money. On the small side he referenced changing the township phone system and negotiating changes with PECO resulting in saving a third on utility costs.

On the big side, Barakat said he saved the township anywhere from $800,000 to $1 million by working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to avoid a major sewer expansion because of new DEP requirements regarding nitrification.

“I spent five or six months fighting them, and they finally relented,” Barakat said.

He added that he has tried to move the township “out of the stone age with everything being on paper.” He has attempted to get more things filed electronically, including COs and building permits.

“This is meant to streamline the whole building permit process,” he said, adding that the building inspector is a private contractor and that the township does not have access to the building permits. He said to see a permit you have to see the building inspector. Barakat called that process “archaic.”

On learning of the resignation, Prabel said, “I’m very pleased that this has occurred as soon as it has.”

Reiner said she sees the chance for a brighter future for the township.

“I look forward to the future of our township with great hope,” she said in an e-mail. “If the sitting board will see their way clear to make the right choice going forward, I believe we can work towards bringing integrity, honesty and sincerity back to the local level. As an experienced municipal and sewer authority manager, I stand ready to volunteer and assist in any way possible.”

Hoxter made a similar comment: “I believe this is an opportunity for Chadds Ford Township to move forward in a positive direction.”

While Barakat has detractors, he also has supporters.

“He’s brought the township up quite a few notches, both in implementing systems and in saving us a fair bit of money,” said Supervisors’ Vice Chairman Deborah Love.

She added that there is a surplus of at least $130,000 for 2012 because of systems that Barakat put into place and for other work he did that attorneys and engineers would have had to be paid extra to do.

“I’m personally sad that he’s leaving. As the first township manager, I really thought he brought us up to a level of systems that have been good for the township,” she said.

Love understands that there will be people who are suspicious over the timing of the resignation, coming just two days after the testy Board of Supervisors’ meeting.

“I can’t be responsible for people’s thoughts,” she said.

According to Love, the board will likely look for an interim replacement — either an individual or a service — before it begins looking for a new fulltime manager.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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