Pocopson OKs Barnard House Q&A – again

After a continuation of the spirited exchanges that have marked recent Pocopson Township meetings, the supervisors voted on Monday, Aug. 17, to put the Barnard House question-and-answer session on the calendar – the second such vote in less than a month.

Pocopson Township Supervisors Ricki Stumpo (from left) and Barney Leonard listen to residents' comments during their Aug. 17 meeting.

Pocopson Township Supervisors Ricki Stumpo (from left) and Barney Leonard listen to residents' comments during their Aug. 17 meeting.

Supervisors’ Chairman Barney Leonard and Supervisor Ricki Stumpo agreed that the date for the two-hour session would remain Sept. 21 at the Pocopson Home. Supervisor Georgia Brutscher was absent from the meeting and unable to connect electronically as planned.

The supervisors passed the same motion at the July 27 meeting; however, that proposal got derailed. At a supervisors’ meeting held on Monday, Aug. 10, at 8:30 a.m. – controversial because of its timing – Leonard publicly accused Elaine DiMonte, who is running unopposed for supervisor and suggested the Q&A, of making the issue political and failing to collaborate with him on the format.

At the Aug. 17 meeting, DiMonte suggested that Leonard was out of line to criticize her at a meeting that most working residents in the township, including herself, were unable to attend. Moreover, she said she would be happy to share the emails they exchanged, which she felt contained a nasty tone on his part.

Leonard said he believed the communication had been misinterpreted. “I’m sorry that happened …,” he said, “because I’d rather talk to you directly than have to make this a whole public circus, which wasn’t intended ever.”

The Barnard House, once a stop on the Underground Railroad, is being renovated for use as the township municipal building and the home of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, a project that has become increasingly contentious. Some residents have raised concerns about shoddy workmanship, ineffective oversight, and spiraling costs, and some township employees have questioned whether the historic building is well-suited to township administration.

The Aug. 10 meeting gave rise to a suggestion that the supervisors use a survey to poll residents on the Barnard House as well as the earned-income tax (EIT), which some residents associate with the renovations; however, Leonard said after giving that idea some thought, it didn’t seem likely to provide the litmus test the township was seeking.

Leonard suggested adding the township’s earned-income tax to the Sept. 21 Q&A, but several residents responded that too many questions have surfaced on the Barnard House to make the dual topics practical.

Stumpo and Leonard agreed that DiMonte would collaborate with township residents Sarah Mims and Holly Manzone to come up with a procedure that would enable residents to get their questions about the Barnard House answered and provide members of the Barnard House Steering Committee ample time to research the answers.

Resident Sean Rafferty also took issue with Leonard’s comments at an earlier meeting. In response to Rafferty’s criticism on July 27 that a new floor had been damaged during construction at the Barnard House, Leonard said the floor wasn’t new. Rafferty said he filed a Right-to-Know request that indicated it was. Rafferty also questioned the fact that all three supervisors are serving on Barnard House committees.

“The committees are supposed to advise the supervisors, not be the supervisors,” he said, suggesting the possibility of bias.

On a related issue, Rafferty asked about the state ethics review the township sought in response to potential conflict-of-interest issues Rafferty raised at the July 27 meeting involving Richard Jensen, the township’s zoning-code enforcement officer.

According to township records, Jensen, who had been paid an extra $50 an hour to serve as the project manager for Barnard House, issued a building permit for the Barnard House about three weeks after Keystone Municipal Services, the township’s building inspector, recommended denying it unless specific conditions were met. The supervisors voted to have Jensen withdraw from the project at the July 27 meeting.

Leonard said the township received a response to its inquiry from the State Ethics Commission that “was so confusing that our solicitor had to get clarity.” The commission declined to rule after the fact, Leonard said, adding that he would recommend having Keystone resume its role as the Barnard House inspector. He and Stumpo voted to authorize a meeting on that subject that would include Jensen and Keystone.

In other business, the Kennett Library Task Force appointment was tabled after Stumpo and Leonard disagreed on its merit. Leonard said he had spoken with Kennett Library Board President Susan Mackey-Kallis and felt she should be given time to “solve her own problems” without interference from a task force.

Leonard said not all of the municipalities served by the library were participating in the task force, just the ones that have been dissatisfied with some of the decisions made by the library board, including a controversial name change and conflict over the location for a new library.

According to Pocopson Township minutes from May 2013, Pocopson's supervisors learned that the library board had rejected its two nominees for a seat on the library board and decided that Pocopson would not contribute any funds to the library without representation, a situation that continues.

Stumpo said she felt that Pocopson should have a voice in the library’s future. “I think we should be represented on a task force,” she said.

The supervisors agreed that while efforts are underway to disseminate information electronically, a mailed township newsletter still serves a valuable purpose, and one will be distributed soon. It will include material on Founders Day as well as information provided by Sarah Mims regarding a volunteer day on Sept. 10.

Mims, a member of the township's Historical Committee, said the outreach is part of a global day of giving that will involve 10,000 people worldwide, an initiative of her employer, XL Catlin. She said eight volunteers are lined up from the company’s Exton office to scrape paint at the Locust Grove Schoolhouse.

In other schoolhouse developments, the supervisors approved a $2,472 request to use Historical Committee funds for the installation of most of the school’s original slate blackboard. Randy Mims, who is also on the Historical Committee, said that the slate came from E. Barnard Baily and Mary Beth Drobish, who have been storing pieces of it; the funds will cover its cutting and mounting.

After the meeting, Sarah Mims said she hopes other companies might consider similar outreach to aid the schoolhouse project. For more information on efforts to restore the one-room, late 19th-century schoolhouse and what is known about its colorful history, visit  http://locustgroveschoolhouse.org/.


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