Barnard House project prompts ethics review

The historic Barnard House, once an Underground Railroad refuge, continued to spark spirited debate in Pocopson Township, dominating the agenda at Monday night’s supervisors’ meeting.

Pocopson Township Supervisor Ricki Stumpo (left) listens as Supervisors' Chairman Barney Leonard discusses the Barnard House project.

Pocopson Township Supervisor Ricki Stumpo (left) listens as Supervisors' Chairman Barney Leonard discusses the Barnard House project.

Amid some impassioned and sometimes rancorous rhetoric, Supervisors’ Chairman Barney Leonard and Supervisor Ricki Stumpo made some key decisions about the project, which involves renovating the structure for use as the township municipal building and the home of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center. (Supervisor Georgia Brutscher was away on vacation.)

In response to concerns raised in an email by township resident Sean Rafferty, the supervisors voted to have Richard Jensen, the township’s zoning/code enforcement officer, “temporarily withdraw from all activities associated with the Barnard House.” Jensen, who has been paid an extra $50 an hour to serve as the project manager for Barnard House, has also served as its building inspector, and the supervisors want input from the state Ethics Commission on whether the dual role constitutes a legal conflict of interest.

Leonard said after the supervisors received Rafferty’s email, they contacted the township solicitor for advice and received an inconclusive answer, prompting them to seek the state review. “The impression of impropriety is a challenge,” said Leonard. “If we’re breaking ethical laws, we need to know that.”

In his email, Rafferty noted what he called a more serious issue regarding Jensen’s role. He said he doesn’t understand why township records show that after Keystone Municipal Services, the township’s building inspector, recommended denying a building permit for Barnard House unless specific conditions were met, Jensen was able to issue a permit less than three weeks later.

At the supervisors’ meeting, Rafferty said he wasn’t casting aspersions at Jensen. “Someone ordered him to do it,” Rafferty said. “It’s unethical; I don’t know if it’s unlawful.”

Calling some of the workmanship at the site “deplorable,” Rafferty said, “We are being ripped off. None of us would allow that quality of work in our home.”

Rafferty cited examples of some of the contractors’ sloppiness, illustrated in dozens of photos he included with the email. Stumpo, a new member of the Barnard House Steering Committee, concurred, explaining that Rafferty and other residents have raised questions about the workmanship.

Some Pocopson Township residents have questioned the quality of the work done on the exterior of the Barnard House.

Some Pocopson Township residents have questioned the quality of the work done so far on the exterior of the Barnard House, which is being renovated for use as a township building and museum for the Kennett Underground Railroad.

“Apparently, there’s a lot of mistakes,” Stumpo said. “I think it’s important that we know what was not done properly, why it wasn’t done, and who’s not monitoring things. I think it’s very important that we get this handled.”

Leonard agreed that the township and its taxpayers should not have to pay to fix substandard work. He and Stumpo voted to authorize Susan Simone, the township secretary, to obtain a punch list to determine what work needs to be redone so that the contractors can be held accountable.

“If there’s a way that we can uncover, or at least improve upon, efficiency and quality control on the second phase, I’m all for it,” said Leonard. He called the chance of using the same contractors and the same oversight procedures in the next phase “slim to none.”

Leonard thanked Rafferty for calling Jensen's possible conflict of interest to the board’s attention, but he took issue with some of Rafferty’s other criticisms, such as questioning the lack of plans from the project’s architect, Dennis Melton. Rafferty commented that Melton has been paid a lot of money and the township doesn’t even have a workable plan for the interior.

“It does sicken me to think what we could have built in bricks and mortar for the $125,000 that we paid Mr. Melton to attend meetings and pontificate,” Rafferty wrote.

Leonard countered that over the years, multiple plans have been produced and that the current plans are still in flux. “Why is he just spending money at meetings? Well, that’s his job. That’s what an architect does,” Leonard said.

The supervisors also acted on a suggestion from Elaine DiMonte, a township resident who is running for supervisor. She had recommended holding a question-and-answer session to address residents’ concerns about the Barnard House, some of which deal with its cost - currently estimated at about $1.5 million  – and some of which deal with its suitability for township administration.

Leonard and Stumpo voted to hold a two-hour session on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., probably at the Pocopson Home. At Rafferty’s urging, they agreed to send a postcard to notify all residents. A notice will be put on the township’s website, and residents are encouraged to submit questions in advance. For those who are unable to attend, a transcript will appear on the township’s website, Leonard said.

Jean Conary, a member of the Barnard House Steering Committee, applauded the initiative. She said the committee has worked hard to maintain the historic building’s integrity while holding the line on costs and is eager to discuss the process.

“We would like as neutral a presentation as possible,” Conary said.

Leonard said he and DiMonte would confer to work out the logistics.

In other business, the supervisors voted to pass the Brandywine Greenway Corridor Resolution, a conservation initiative of the Brandywine Conservancy; released escrow funds for a lot in Scaleby Farm; signed the annual contract for the use of Bragg Hill Road for the Marshalton Triathalon; approved draft rental unit registration and fees; and received an update on the Winterwood stormwater basin plan, which will result in a meeting among all the stakeholders to discuss the options.

 

 

 

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