Investigation continues into Kennett finances

A forensic accounting firm and the Chester County District Attorney’s office are almost finished collecting the records and documents they will need to analyze in their investigation into suspicious transactions in Kennett Township’s financial accounts.

Kennett TownshipMeanwhile, the supervisors are continuing the search for a full-time township manager, posting an ad for the position on the township website and contracting with a local government-specialized organization out of Lafayette College to manage that search.

As was the case with the last meeting, Wednesday’s board of supervisors meeting began with an update into the investigation and a chance for the public to ask questions. Township Supervisors’ Chairman Scudder Stevens reiterated that the supervisors are limited in what they can say because of the investigation, but that they would continue communicating what they could.

“We continue to internally review township operations, and take corrective actions when appropriate, to ensure the proper functioning of both financial and operational matters,” Stevens said in his opening statement.

The investigations – one by the forensic accounting firm of Marcum LLP and the other by the district attorney’s office – began when one of the township’s financial institutions notified supervisors April 25 of the discovery of suspicious transactions. Township Manager Lisa Moore was first placed on paid administrative leave and then terminated May 17.

Since the discovery of the transactions, the supervisors have met frequently in executive session to discuss personnel matters, according to township solicitor David Sander. The most recent meetings were held May 16, 17, 20-24, 28, and 29, and also June 3 and 4, he said.

In response to a question, Stevens said the forensic auditors will look at transactions over the last 10 years.

That is about the same length of time that Moore had been employed in that position with Kennett.

“The investigators and the forensic accounting firm are in the final stages of securing the records and documents, both internal and external sources,” Stevens said, reading from a joint statement from the accounting firm and the DA’s office and given to Kennett Township Police Chief Lydell Nolt, who is serving as the liaison between the supervisors and investigators. “As we speak, the analysis and qualification of those documents and records are being actively pursued by both the accountant and investigators jointly. We anticipate that this analysis will continue for an extended period of time. It is important that all pertinent documents and records are reviewed.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the supervisors formally ratified three items:

  • the termination of Moore;
  • the hiring of interim Manager Alison Rudolf, who began May 28; and
  • the hiring of David Woglom and Lafayette College’s Robert B. and Helen S. Meyner Center for the Study of State and Local Government.

Moore was terminated by the township May 17. According to an email sent to township residents, Moore was dismissed “after new information was discovered and brought before the supervisors. The dismissal action was coordinated with the township’s legal and human resources representatives.”

The supervisors announced May 24 that they had hired Rudolf, who has worked as an interim township manager for other municipalities. At Wednesday’s meeting, supervisor Whitney Hoffman said Rudolf has “stepped into the role well.”

“I think the staff can attest that Alison is pretty terrific,” she said. “Having an experienced interim manager … has been helpful.”

Stevens said Rudolf is being paid $100/hour. Hoffman said, in response to a question from township resident Art Kaiser, that Rudolf is working about 20 hours (or three days) a week. Rudolf was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, as she had a personal matter to attend to, Hoffman said, adding that she would attend the June 19 meeting.

But that was not an adequate answer for Kaiser, who demanded to know why she wasn’t in attendance, given the situation in the township. Hoffman replied that with the speed with which she was hired and subsequently began working for the township, Rudolf needed to take care of certain obligations. As the head of a Montgomery County-based non-profit, Rudolf had to attend its final meeting before the summer that night.

Stevens said the supervisors sign off on Rudolf’s time sheets and oversee her work.

While Rudolph works with the supervisors in the interim, Woglom and the Meyner Center will be vetting potential candidates for the full-time position.

The ad announcing the search has been posted on the township’s website – kennett.pa.us– and includes a salary range of between $125,000 to $160,000. According to the ad, the ideal candidate will be a strong communicator, have a bachelor’s degree, have worked in municipalities for at least five years, and have land development and financial experience.

Both Stevens and Sander said there will be a new job description for the township manager once a full-time replacement is hired. The existing job description will be updated.

When asked by a resident if anyone has been able to identify failures in the financial controls, Stevens said he can’t answer that “without being over the edge as far as disclosing. I’ve probably already gone too far by saying we’re looking a long way back.”

When asked by Kaiser about “failure of oversights” in the past, Stevens said Kaiser had it wrong but couldn’t elaborate because the supervisors and staff have been instructed by the district attorney’s office not to discuss the investigation.

“I can’t tell you, sadly, because it would be a violation of specific instructions,” Stevens said. “I worded it much more lightly when I said the district attorney urges us not to talk. It’s a very strong directive not to talk.”

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About Monica Fragale

Monica Thompson Fragale is a freelance reporter who spent her life dreaming of being in the newspaper business. That dream came true after college when she started working at The Kennett Paper and, years later The Reporter newspaper in Lansdale and other dailies. She turned to non-profit work after her first daughter was born and spent the next 13 years in that field. But while you can take the girl out of journalism, you can’t take journalism out of the girl. Offers to freelance sparked the writing bug again started her fingers happily tapping away on the keyboard. Monica lives with her husband and two children in Kennett Square.

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