Amid inquiry, lawsuit, Kennett Twp. OKs pact

More questions than answers surfaced during an unusual meeting on Wednesday night of the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Richard Leff (from left), Supervisors' Chairman Scudder G. Stevens, and Township Manager Lisa M. Moore listen as township solicitor David J. Sander responds to a question from the audience at Wednesday night's township meeting

Supervisor Richard L.Leff (from left), Supervisors' Chairman Scudder G. Stevens, and Township Manager Lisa M. Moore listen as township solicitor David J. Sander responds to a question from the audience at Wednesday night's township meeting. Not shown is Supervisor Robert A. Hammaker.

The meeting, scheduled with 24 hours’ notice, focused on a single agenda item: the retirement agreement and release for former Kennett Township Police Chief Albert J. McCarthy, an agreement that has already generated litigation.

Michael Hammon, a Kennett Township resident, filed a Sunshine Act lawsuit against the township and its supervisors earlier this month, alleging that the board negotiated the deal in secret without any opportunity for input from the public.

The complaint, which was filed on July 22 by attorney Mark A. Sereni on Hammon’s behalf, accuses the supervisors of violating the Sunshine Act by entering into an agreement with McCarthy on May 7, a pact that could cost township taxpayers “well in excess of $45,000.”

Prior to Wednesday night’s meeting, the supervisors said they could not comment on the suit on the advice of counsel. That stance changed little during the meeting, which began with a 25-minute delay so that the supervisors could meet in executive session with township solicitor David J. Sander and attorneys from the township’s insurance company.

Apologizing for the delay, Supervisors’ Chairman Scudder G. Stevens thanked the audience of about 45 for its patience. In response to questions, most of which dealt with queries about the agreement’s timing, approval, and payments, board members repeatedly deferred to Sander.

Sander said he was unable to elaborate on most issues, explaining: “That is a legal issue that has been raised in the complaint and we’re not going to discuss legal issues that have been raised in the complaint.”

The solicitor denied allegations that the pact involved secrecy because it contained a non-disclosure clause. Sander called the provision “an extremely common agreement” designed to protect both sides. He said such a clause can be trumped by a Right-to-Know request, which is what recently happened and led to the litigation.

Resident Chris Burkett said he was reminded of Stevens’ and Supervisor Richard L. Leff 's election campaign. He said their platform of transparency involved accusations that the former board was withholding information from the public.

Burkett said he heard the current supervisors’ insistence that the agreement “is all on the up and up,” but he was struggling to accept that. “It just doesn’t look right,” he said.

Stevens said the two situations could not be fairly compared. “The reason we are constrained is on the advice of counsel because we’re in the middle of litigation,” he said. “It’s a very different animal.”

He also pointed out that the township was holding Wednesday night’s meeting in an effort to answer as many questions as it could, and he said a copy of the agreement would be placed on the township’s web site. To view it, click here .

“At the end of the process, I think you’ll find it’s been transparent,” said Stevens.

But some residents remained skeptical. Rosa Quintana, a township resident and member of the Kennett Library board, asked whether McCarthy had already received money from the agreement, which was executed in May but not unanimously approved by the supervisors until Wednesday night’s meeting. She was told that McCarthy has been receiving payments.

Township Manager Lisa M. Moore responded affirmatively to a question from resident Ted Moxon about whether the money to pay McCarthy’s retirement agreement had been budgeted. “Everything was budgeted for 2015,” she said.

Fred McCarthy, a township resident and the former chief’s nephew, questioned what a resident would have to gain by suing his own township and asked whether Hammon was present.

Sander said that he didn’t know the answer to either question but that it didn’t matter. “Mr. Hammon is a resident. He is entitled to enforce his rights,” Sander said. “We’re not here to disparage Mr. Hammon.”

In addition to Quintana, four other members of the Kennett Library board attended the meeting, including its president, Susan Mackey-Kallis.

After the meeting, Mackey-Kallis said that she could not speak for the other board members but that the short notice for the meeting got the library board’s attention.

“Although not a Kennett Township resident, I attended last night’s Kennett Township emergency meeting out of a desire to see transparency in governance in action, especially as it concerns budgetary matters,” she said, noting that Stevens “strongly and erroneously criticized the library board for lack of transparency in our handling of budgetary matters” at a recent township meeting.

Mackey-Kallis said the library board, which has experienced a strained relationship with Kennett Township, its major funder, in recent months, diligently follows the state’s Sunshine Laws. She said she did not believe it would ever face the issues that surfaced at Wednesday night’s township meeting.

The township’s former police chief did not attend the meeting. McCarthy, who joined Kennett Township in 2007, is credited with creating the first Kennett Township Police Department, a one-man operation until Officer Lydell Nolt, now the police chief, joined the force in 2012.

McCarthy previously worked for more than 30 years as an officer in Kennett Square Borough, including 19 years as its chief. He generated headlines during his Kennett Township tenure on Oct. 12, 2011, when he rear-ended a Jeep on southbound Route 82 and left the scene. He returned after the other driver called 9-1-1, not realizing that he was responding to a crash he had caused. He later explained that he was being treated for what doctors had labeled a seizure disorder.

After serving some months of desk duty, McCarthy resumed his normal duties, and, according to state police reports, he was traveling east on Monday, April 13, at noon on Hillendale Road in Kennett Township, when he collided with the vehicle in front of him, which was driven by Hammon.

State police said McCarthy was not cited for the April 13 crash because he might have suffered a momentary seizure caused by a previous brain injury.

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