2018 Chester County News

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December 26, 2018
In 2018, K-9 Unit funds drew questions


WEST CHESTER—In November, Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh announced that she would not seek re-election to the post she has held longer than any other current county elected official.

In a statement, Welsh, who has served in the office since 2000 and seen its profile gain national stature, said she plans to pursue one of several opportunities that have surfaced, although the statement did not specify what those opportunities entail.

“Sometimes God leads you down a path and opens doors where you least expect it,” Welsh said. “After serving as sheriff for 20 years, I will be looking forward to a new challenge in 2020.”

The challenge that Welsh faced most in 2018, however, was a unique one. In August, county Controller Margaret Reif issued a subpoena for financial records held by Welsh’s office for the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9. Unit, the first time in memory that one county official had questioned the way another ran his or her office.

Reif and her team of auditors suspected, and later said they confirmed, that funds that had been collected for the K-9 officers and their handlers had been misused by people in the office, most notably Lt. Harry McKinney, the supervisor of the celebrated K-9 Unit and Welsh’s longtime life partner.

After some disagreement, some of the records that Reif’s office requested were turned over. Though incomplete, they formed a picture of improper use of the funds that the controller later detailed in a remarkable summary.

The expenses questioned included $4,718 paid for a stay at the Hilton Baltimore in June and July 2015; at least $5,290.74 on 75 miscellaneous lunches and dinners over a three year period; $4,200 for a custom-made golf cart; $2,500 for tires and front and back winches on a privately owned pickup truck; and $579 for a one-night stay at the Quality Hotel in Exton in September 2017.

The audit estimated that more than $198,000 was raised and spent over the years 2015 to 2017 for the K-9 unit through private donations to the sheriff’s office that used county property and employees to accept and record them. Among other expenses, paid for with checks and credit cards, the controller said that it could not ascertain how those individual payments directly related to the services K-9 Unit was formed to provide to law enforcement agencies and others in and out of the county.

The 23 instances of questionable actions by the K-9 Unit that a summary report of the controller’s audit cited — including failure to register as a charitable organization, file for tax-exempt status, and establish an overall “formal or informal structure” for receipts and disbursements — led the office to the rare step of bringing the matter to the attention of other elected officials in the county, according to a statement issued by the controller’s office

“Based on our evaluation of the limited documentation we received, it did not appear that the majority of the generous donations received from well-meaning donors and sponsors (of the K-9 Unit) were being used for their intended purpose,” Controller Margaret Rife said in a statement to the Daily Local News. “Given that fact, according to the County Code, our responsibility at that point was to stop what we were doing and bring our concerns to the commissioners and the District Attorney, which is what we did”

Welsh and her supporters fired back, saying the fundraising was not within the controller’s purview since they were private, not taxpayer, dollars.

In a separate statement to the Daily Local, attorney Dawson R. Muth of the West Chester firm of Lamb McErlane said that Reif, a Democrat, was pursuing the audit of the K-9 unit as a way of attacking county Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, a Republican. He also said the sheriff had recently enlisted an outside auditor to review the same records that the controller referenced, and that to date no wrongdoing was found.

“The sheriff offered several times, prior to being subpoenaed by the controller, to sit down with the Controller and explain all of the programs and fundraising efforts,” he said. “The controller and her solicitor chose not to accept that offer. Instead they have chosen to leak certain information to the press, to start a criminal investigation and to malign the hardworking professional law enforcement officers who protect and serve the citizens of Chester County.

“The controller’s conduct in this matter is clearly and without question politically motivated and is nothing more than a personal attack leveled at the sheriff of Chester County,” Muth said.

But after discussing the matter with Reif and the county commissioners, District Attorney Tom Hogan sent separate letters to the state Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, passing on a request by the controller for an investigation into, and potential prosecution of, allegations of what he called suspected illegal activity involving the K-9 funds.

To date, a review by the Attorney General’s Office is still on going, according to that office.

December 19, 2018
Chester Co. DA opens criminal investigation into Sunoco pipelines

The Chester County District Attorney’s Office has opened a criminal investigation into the construction of the Mariner East 1, 2, and 2X pipelines.

District Attorney Tom Hogan announced Wednesday the investigation includes the owners of the pipelines – Energy Transfer LP, Sunoco Logistics Partners, and related corporate entities.

“In the last two years, we have seen these pipelines rip through the heart of Chester County. We have seen sinkholes created by the pipeline drilling, contaminated well water, and some subtle and not-so-subtle bullying of Chester County citizens by big corporate interests,” Hogan said in a statement.

Sunoco Pipeline LP, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, has nearly completed work on the 350-mile-long, 20-inch diameter Mariner East 2 pipeline to carry propane, butane and ethane from western Pennsylvania across the southern portion of the state to a terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. A second, 16-inch diameter line, Mariner East 2x, is following the same route.
Mariner East 1, which dates to the 1930s, has been sending natural gas liquids eastward for over a year.

In March, Action News reported on sinkholes in West Whiteland Township that officials say were caused by the continued operation of Sunoco’s Mariner 1 East system.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued a stop-work order on the Mariner East 1.

Sinkholes open at homes near Pa. pipeline project. Annie McCormick reports during Action News at 4:30pm on March 5, 2018.

In the beginning of May, the order was lifted. At the same time, Sunoco agreed to pay $355,000 for polluting waterways in 14 counties while building the Mariner East 2.

Later in May, an administrative law judge shut down work on the pipelines, saying Sunoco failed to take reasonable steps to warn people and protect them from danger.

Public Utility Commission Judge Elizabeth Barnes ruled the company had to stop work on the Mariner East 2 pipeline in West Whiteland Township and halt the use of Mariner East 1 to transport liquid fuels through the area.

Barnes said Sunoco failed to take reasonable steps to warn people and protect them from danger. She said there was evidence that drilling practices have put water supplies at risk, and she cited a history of leaks and failures to report spills when they’ve occurred, sinkholes, and the possibility of a public catastrophe.

The judge said state Sen. Andy Dinniman, who sought the ruling, showed the company’s drilling practices are putting water supplies at risk.

In June, the Public Utility Commission voted 3-2 to allow Sunoco Pipeline LLC to resume use of the Mariner East 1 pipeline, with the chairman saying there was no new credible evidence to think it can’t be operated safely. It reversed the administrative law judge’s order.

Judge shuts down work on Sunoco pipelines, cites danger: Chad Pradelli reports on Action News at 6 p.m., May 24, 2018

The regulators ruled that more information is required before work could continue on building a 3.5-mile portion of Mariner East 2 and a companion line through Chester County. Those details include inspection and testing protocols, as well as safety training.

Sunoco said it was pleased to be able to restart Mariner East 1, but said stopping work on the two other projects ran afoul of the law.

Dinniman called the decision a mixed bag. He said Mariner East 1 represents the greater potential danger.

“We continue to have very real and significant concerns regarding the stability of Mariner East 1,” Dinniman said in a statement, describing it as “an 87-year-old pipeline carrying highly volatile natural gas liquids within close proximity of schools, playgrounds, senior care facilities, neighborhoods, a library, shopping mall, and rail line, to name just a few.”

Sunoco’s statement said Dinniman should not have been allowed to bring the legal challenge before the commission.

“This can only be seen as an inherently political decision as Sen. Dinniman does not have legal standing to bring this suit in his political capacity and if he lacks standing, the entire administrative law judge’s decision should have been reversed,” the company said.

The D.A. said the investigation will cover both past and future conduct related to the pipelines. Potential charges include causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, environmental crimes, and corrupt organizations.

Those who could face criminal charges, according to the D.A., include individual employees involved, “from workers on the pipelines through corporate officers.”

“We expected the state regulators and the governor to step in and assure the safety of Pennsylvanians. They have not. So now the Chester County District Attorney’s Office will demand that every aspect of these pipelines be conducted safely, or we will bring into play all of the tools of the criminal justice system,” Hogan said.

Hogan said Sunoco has been advised of this investigation via a letter.

(Note: The video in the player is from a previous story.)   Source


                                                RCCC Logo2.jpg

  • December 7, 2018

    Dear Committee:

    I am contacting you to inform you of my decision to resign as Chairman of the Republican Committee of Chester County (RCCC) effective as of today.

    The opportunity to serve as Chairman of our county party has truly been an honor. I will always be proud of the many elected officials, committee people, and volunteers who have worked so diligently on behalf of the citizens of this county. As a result of many years of your support, I have been able to take on greater responsibility to help grow our party at the state level. Our shared goals are best served with a county leadership team that allows me to focus on continuing that growth at all levels across the state while the RCCC builds on the many local successes we have achieved together.

    Our responsibility next year will be to continue the good Republican leadership in the courthouse and across Chester County which has made our county a leading county in Pennsylvania and across the nation.  This is due to the great work over many years of our Republican commissioners and other elected officials. We must ensure the re-election of Commissioners Michelle Kichline and Terence Farrell. We all, including me, must be actively involved in that effort.

    I want to take this opportunity to thank Thomas Donohue for his great work, Skip Brion for always being such a great adviser and friend, Joel Frank for all his good work as our counsel throughout most of my tenure, and Barb Proto for her service as my longtime Vice-Chairman and Steve Sansone for his tireless work this year as Executive Vice-Chairman.. Additionally, I want to thank the many hard-working Area Chairs who have been so loyal and vital to the success of our county.

    You have heard and may hear from potential candidates interested in being elected as our next Chairman. I pledge to do whatever I can to ensure that our new Chairman and this committee is as successful as possible in 2019. 

    It has been a pleasure to have served with you all. Thank you for everything you do. I look forward to working with you to support our next chairman and re-elect our commissioners and row officers.

    Best Regards,
    Val Signature.jpg
    Val DiGiorgio

December 2, 2018
PA Leadership Website

The PA Leadership Charter School’s purpose is to provide an academically challenging, knowledge-based curriculum, individually designed for each child’s needs. PALCS will combine the benefits of a classical basics oriented education with the latest Internet / computer technology and the best teaching and learning education practices. By studying the lives and works of the great leaders in history, PALCS students will develop multi-cultural perspectives and a global awareness. PALCS will prepare students to be informed, responsible citizens with a global mentality who will succeed through mentoring leadership.

PALCS’s vision is to provide parents with an option for public education that tailors an educational experience to the unique needs of their child and allows them to receive that experience via the World Wide Web. The PALCS’s curriculum incorporates differentiated teaching within a strong academic environment. PALCS’s teachers are encouraged to develop their own curriculum, additional resources and alternative learning styles to ensure that each student experiences the pedagogy that is most effective for him/her.

PALCS’s policy requires that the parent or other Home Facilitator meet with the student’s teacher leader at the beginning of the student’s educational experience and once a year to review the Individualized Program of Instruction (IPI) developed by the teacher(s), parent and/or Home Facilitator for the student. Each student will receive instruction in music, art, foreign languages and technology as well as basic core requirements to ensure a well-rounded education.

Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh – PA Leadership Charter School  School Board Member

Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh

Education: Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
Temple University School of Criminal Justice
The National Sheriff’s Institute, National Institute of Corrections, Longmont, Colorado
FBI Mid-Atlantic Law-enforcement Executive Development Program “LEEDS”

Occupation: Sheriff, Chester County

First Jobs: Hercon Enterprises (President), self employed, construction and construction management.

November 29, 2018  Scroll down to read about financial investigation
Chester Co. Sheriff Bunny Welsh Will Not Run For Re-Election
Longtime Chester County Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh will not run for re-election in 2020, she announced Thursday.
CHESTER COUNTY, PA — Longtime Chester County Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh will not seek re-election come the next election, in 2020, she announced on Thursday.Welsh, a Republican, was the first woman to be elected sheriff of Chester County, and is the longest tenured sheriff in county history. She has held the position since 2000.In a statement, Republican Committee of Chester County Chairman Val DiGiorgio called Welsh a “trailblazer in law enforcement.””Her commitment to good government and the community she serves is without parallel,” DiGiorgio said. “I am proud to have worked alongside Bunny for so many years. It is a testament to her personality and work ethic that Sheriff Welsh is beloved by so many in Chester County.”Welsh was named to the board of the National Sheriffs Association in 2011.A longtime supporter of President Trump, she cast her delegate ballot for him at the 2016 Republican National Convention. She later joined him at the White House in Feb. 2017 during an Association meeting.  
Paid for by former Chester County Republican Party Treasurer
Nov 2018
Curt Schroder is a former PA State Rep
November 4, 2018
Chester County coroner to honor ‘forgotten souls’ in ceremonyInternment
Dr. Christina VandePol, the Chester County coroner, will lead a ceremony this week to inter more than two dozen people whose unclaimed emains have been in the county’s custody for years.
WEST GOSHEN — When Dr. Christina VandePol took over as Chester County coroner in January, she did what any new head of an office would do — she explored her new surroundings.The coroner’s office is located in the basement of the county’s Government Services Center is a semi-labyrinth of rooms and offices, and in one of the various storage rooms VandePol encountered a wall of boxes. “What are these for?” she remembers asking.What VandePol learned has led this week to a unique and remarkable ceremony in which she, in her official capacity, will help lay to rest the remains of more than two dozen people who died in the county under indigent circumstances. They had no funeral plans, no family who could or would claim their bodies, and no place to be laid in rest in peace.“I was very surprised,” said VandePol in a recent interview at her office. Not only were there the cremated remains of 54 people from all across the county, but their deaths dated back as far as 2011. The last time there had been an interment was sometime in 2012, she was told. “Sometimes people claim the remains, sometimes they don’t.”Knowledge of the remains led VandePol on a mission to learn more about what becomes of those who die without means in the county and whose bodies are tuned over to her office for final disposition. “I was curious,” she said. “How does this happen.”What she learned was that in the past, the county ran a “poor house,” a hospital-sanitarium of sorts in the village of Embreeville, part of West Bradford. And across Route 162 from the hospital, near a branch line of the Wilmington Northern Railroad, there is located a piece of ground where the cremated remains of those who died there and whose bodies were not claimed by family or friends were interred. In days gone by, the space was known as the county’s “Potter’s Field.”The plot of land, still cared for, is framed by four evergreens, and fenced with a rickety blue gate, but only about a third of the square plot is taken up by the graves. Numbers rather than names identify the stones that mark the graves, and records of who is buried where and when they died have gone missing, the coroner learned.The 6-by-12 inch stones are semi-polished granite, and have their numbers placed in the center. There are six rows of stones, with numbered-sequences, up to 204. Some rows have more than 40 stones, the last has only 20. The stones are identical, the only difference is the amount of cement they rest on protruding from the earth.“I love history, so this has been a truly interesting exploration,” VandePol said. There is a ow a poster in her offices paying homage to the “forgotten souls” in the Potter’s Field.The people whose remains are now under the care of the county are not as unknown as those in the Potter’s Field. VandePol knows as much as can be known from official documents about them — their names, their ages, their general medical circumstances — but finding herself wishes she knew more.“They tend to be older people, who had outlived their friends,’ VandePol told an interviewer, having read all the reports on the 54 people whose custody the Coroner’s Office had taken on. Perhaps they were estranged from their families for some reason, or had no family left. “We are now the survivors.”The people died in hospitals or in whatever homes they had. Sometimes the death was accidental, sometimes from drug overdoses or alcohol-related disease, or simply just natural causes — “old age,” as they say. Their ages range from 48 to 86, their places of death from Oxford in the south to Spring City in the north. “They are all kinds,” she said. “It all seems kind of desolate and sad.”On Thursday, VandePol and invited guests will hold a ceremony at an undisclosed location to inter the remains, giving those who died penniless a sense of dignity in their death. There will be flowers, there will be music, there will be a service of sorts. The sites are being donated by a county cemetery, at no cost to the county.“I believe that death is part of life,” she said. “Everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserve a burial. The least we can do is take care of people when they die. This could happen to any one of us. We can do better” than to not recognize their deaths.“I am happy to do this,” she ended. “This is a counterpart to the sadder part of our job here.”A list of the deceased is available on the Coroner’s Office Facebook page. If you are the next of kin or an interested party who would like to claim someone’s cremains, please call the Office at 610-344-6165.    SourceSeptember 14, 2018
Chester County K-9 audit questions spending, control of fundsWEST CHESTER — Four-thousand, seven hundred, eighteen dollars and forty-one cents paid for a stay at the Hilton Baltimore in June and July 2015. At least $5,290.74 on 75 miscellaneous lunches and dinners over a three year period. $4,200 for a custom-made golf cart. $2,500 for tires and front and back winches on a privately owned pickup truck. $579 for a one-night stay at the Quality Hotel in Exton in September 2017.

Those are some of the expenses that the Chester County Controller’s Office has questioned in its audit of the way that funds for the county sheriff’s K-9 Unit, estimated at more than $198,000, were raised and spent over the years 2015 to 2017. Among other expenses, paid for with checks and credit cards, the controller said that it could not ascertain how those individual payments directly related to the services K-9 Unit was formed to provide to law enforcement agencies and others in and out of the county.

The 23 instances of questionable actions by the K-9 Unit that a summary report of the controller’s audit cited — including failure to register as a charitable organization, file for tax-exempt status, and establish an overall “formal or informal structure” for receipts and disbursements — led the office to the rare step of bringing the matter to the attention of other elected officials in the county, according to a statement issued by the controller’s office

“Based on our evaluation of the limited documentation we received, it did not appear that the majority of the generous donations received from well-meaning donors and sponsors (of the K-9 Unit) were being used for their intended purpose,” Controller Margaret Reif said in a statement to the Daily Local News. “Given that fact, according to the County Code, our responsibility at that point was to stop what we were doing and bring our concerns to the commissioners and the District Attorney, which is what we did”

In a separate statement to the Daily Local, attorney Dawson R. Muth of the West Chester firm of Lamb McErlane said that Reif, a Democrat, was pursuing the audit of the K-9 unit as a way of attacking county Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, a Republican. He also said the sheriff had recently enlisted an outside auditor to review the same records that the controller referenced, and that to date no wrongdoing was found.

“The sheriff offered several times, prior to being subpoenaed by the controller, to sit down with the Controller and explain all of the programs and fundraising efforts,” he said. “The controller and her solicitor chose not to accept that offer. Instead they have chosen to leak certain information to the press, to start a criminal investigation and to malign the hardworking professional law enforcement officers who protect and serve the citizens of Chester County.

“The controller’s conduct in this matter is clearly and without question politically motivated and is nothing more than a personal attack leveled at the sheriff of Chester County,” Muth said.

On Monday, District Attorney Tom Hogan sent separate letters to the state Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, passing on Reif’s request for an investigation into, and potential prosecution of, allegations of what he called suspected illegal activity involving the K-9 funds.

Hogan determined that his office could not conduct an investigation into the finances of the K-9 unit itself because of an apparent conflict of interest, he wrote in letters to the agencies, involving a donation his office made to the K-9 Unit for training.

Included in the referral to the two outside agencies was a copy of the controller’s 10-page summary of its findings involving the review of records for the unit, which consists of nine dogs and their county-employed handlers.

The unit is not supported by county tax dollars beyond the salaries of the deputies who handle the canine officers and insurance paid for those dogs. For several years, the sheriff’s office has solicited private funds for support for the unit — including appeals for donations on the county government’s website and outside events including a gold tournament, a “wild game” dinner, and a classic car show.

In June, the controller began asking the sheriff’s office to submit to an audit of those funds that had been raised for the K-9 Unit partially through the county’s website and e-mail. The sheriff, Reif said, initially agreed to the audit, but later backed away from that stance. The controller issued a subpoena for records involving the unit from 2009 to the present.

According to the summary, the audit began on Aug. 13, when the controller’s staff was provided with six file folders for the K-9 Unit fund for the years ending in 2015, 2016, and 2017, a third of the records that the controller had demanded. The staff photocopied the records, but after several days of sorting through them noted that, “a material amount of supporting documentation … was not included in the six file folders provided by the sheriff’s office.” It completed its review of the partial documentation regardless, ending that process sometime in early September.

Among the deficiencies noted in the summary as the fact that even though the K-9 fund listed five bank account that handled K-9 activity, the information provided by the sheriff’s office related to only two.

In its findings, the auditors noted that, “there is no formal set of documented controls, processes or procedures for the K-9 Fund. Even after asking for information about the fund’s system checks and balances, nothing was presented. From what the auditors could determine, only two people handled the account — a bookkeeper in the sheriff’s office and Lt. Harry McKinney, the longtime sheriff deputy and founder and head of the K-9 Unit.

When the bookkeeper was removed from the accounts, McKinney took over all responsibility of deposits and withdrawals for the bank accounts, the auditors wrote. He thus had authority for both requesting and authorizing funds from the bank accounts.

The audit showed that the two bank accounts reviewed showed deposits of $64,790 in 2015, $61,438 in 2016, and $72,039 in 2017, fo r a total three year income of $198,268. The K-9 accounts showed payments of $201,800 during the period, split essentially equally between check payments and credit card purchases. Those credit cards were listed under the names of Welsh and McKinney, who have had a longtime personal relationship.

In connection with the credit card expenses, the auditors said they determined that McKinney was “the main spending user,” along with Welsh. But there did not appear to be any authorization process to use the K-9 funds via credit cards, in contrast to the minimal check writing oversight between McKinney and the office bookkeeper, Lee DiMattia.

“Based on the structure noted, it appears that Lt. Harry McKinney was both the approver and the spender for the credit cards, giving him unchecked control and discretion of how and when the funds were spent,” the summary report states. It noted that of the $93,519 put on credit cards for the three-year period, only $52,836 was documented, leaving $40,683 unaccounted for — most of which were billed by McKinney.

Of the $52,833 in credit card purchases the audit team was able to document, $5,290 went for “non-event meals,” $15,899 to direct K-9 expenditures, $22,654 to store purchases, $7,448 to travel and automobile expenses, and $1,540 in membership payments.

“Due to the fact that only a vendor, date and amount was listed to the credit card support for the purchases, the appropriateness of many expenditures remains in question and in need of further explanation,” the report states. “Also, it appears that the direct K-9 expenditures were mainly for K-9 dogs under the control of (McKinney) and not the rest of the K-9 Unit.” The report further stated that $1,690 of the direct K-9 funds were spent on grooming services for McKinney’s dogs, including one, Roxy, which is not listed as a member of the K-9 Unit.

Of the questionable expenditures, such as the stay in Baltimore during the 2015 National Sheriff’s Association Conference or the purchase of the golf cart of installation of winches on the privately owned pickup truck, the auditors said they appeared to be personal expenses and not K-9 related. No reimbursement documents were provided.

Of the 23 items of concern pointed out in the report, the first is that the K-9 Fund did not appear to be in compliance with state Department of State guideline for organizations soliciting contributions from state residents that total more than $25,000 a year. It also noted that the fund did not appear to be in compliance with federal guidelines.

Additionally, even though some of the purchases from vendors were made tax-free, the K-9 fund was not a registered charitable organization and thus did not hold tax exempt status.

Also of note, the report states that funds that went to support the K-9 unit, for purchase and insurance of the dogs, came from federal and county tax dollars, and that despite Welsh’s insistence that the unit had brought $165,000 to county coffers since 2009, the county Finance Department listed only $34,000 in payments. “This number needs further explanation and documentation,” the report authors note.

In his comments on the report, Muth declined to address specific questions about individual findings in the report, citing the potential investigations by the Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s Office. He said, however, that the sheriff had retained an “independent, professional auditor” to review the records of what he referred to as “the K-9 entity.”

“Unlike the Controller, this auditor took the time and effort to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of the records, the actual receipts, the expenditures, the credit card statements and the bank statements,” Muth said. “It was a real audit, not a cursory review with assumptions of wrongdoing.

Muth stated that the auditor — whom he declined to identify — concluded at least for the 2017 records he reviewed thus far, “there was no wrongdoing, there was no self-dealing and that there were no expenditures inconsistent with the broad objectives of the fundraising efforts conducted by members of the sheriff’s office.

Muth promised that when the auditor’s work was completed, it would be made available to the public.   Source

Daily Local News
September 12, 2018
Hogan: State, feds should investigate handling of K-9 funds

WEST CHESTER — The Chester County District Attorney, acting on information from the county’s financial watchdog, has referred a request for a criminal investigation into the county Sheriff’s Office and its handling of funds for the sheriff’s K-9 unit to outside law enforcement agencies, sources say.

On Monday, District Attorney Tom Hogan requested in separate letters that the state Attorney General’s Office or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia take on an investigation into, and potential prosecution of, allegations of what he called suspected illegal activity involving the K-9 funds, based on information that his office received from the Chester County Controller’s Office.

County Controller Margaret Reif, a Democrat who won election to the row office last November, has been reviewing the financial transactions of the K-9 Unit, which is operated through the office of longtime Republican Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, but which is not supported with county tax dollars.

Hogan determined that his office could not conduct an investigation into the finances of the K-9 unit itself because of an apparent conflict of interest, he wrote in letters to the agencies.

“The investigation was initiated by an audit of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office by the Chester County Controller,” Hogan wrote in the letters, dated Sept. 10. “The investigation involves allegations of misuse and fraud regarding funds collected by the Sheriff’s Office for their K-9 Unit, but used for other personal and political expenses.

“The DAO (District Attorney’s Office) donated funds to the K-9 Unit, making the DAO a potential fact witness/victim and creating a conflict of interest. A criminal complaint has not been filed at this time. Chester County Controller Margaret Reif and her staff have the basic information regarding the investigation,” he wrote. Hogan said that there may be overlapping state and federal legal issues in the case, so he forwarded his request to both agencies.

Representatives of Attorney General Josh Shapiro and U.S. Attorney William McSwain said Tuesday that their offices would not comment on the specifics of the matter.

“We will review the referral request from the Chester County District Attorney’s Office when we receive it,” said Joe Grace, a spokesman for Shapiro’s office. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined all comment.

A request from a local district attorney’s office to other law enforcement agencies for an investigation does not necessarily mean that a criminal inquiry will be opened by those offices. Those agencies must first determine whether a proper conflict exists with the local prosecutor’s office before proceeding. But it does move the matter one step closer to the virtually unprecedented situation of a Chester County elected official being the subject of a criminal investigation.

No charges have been filed in the case.

Reif said in a statement to the Daily Local News that her office had taken the step of asking the D.A.’s Office to investigate the K-9 funds after conducting an exhaustive audit of three years of records provided by the sheriff’s office last month — only part of the nine years of documents her office had demanded be produced pursuant to a subpoena it issued in July.

“What we found raised more questions than we have answers,” she said Tuesday. “It was enough to raise sufficient concern that what was there wasn’t right.”

Attorney Dawson R. Muth of the West Chester law firm of Lamb McErlane, solicitor for the sheriff’s office, acknowledged being informed about the referral from Hogan’s office.

“We welcome an independent, non-partisan review of the situation,” he said Tuesday.

Reif, who took office in January, has been accused by Muth and others of conducting a “witch hunt,”charging that her investigation into the K-9 Unit’s finances was politically motivated. Welsh, who started the independently financed K-9 Unit in 2006, is a Republican, and staunch supporter of President Donald Trump. Last month, county Republican and state GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio, a former county controller himself, assailed Reif’s audit of the K-9 Unit.

“Unfortunately, with county elections approaching in 2019, the recently elected Democrat controller has decided to bring partisan politics to Chester County and is trying to find scandal where none exists,” said Digiorgio in a letter to county Republicans. He contended that Reif had no authority to audit the K-9 Unit’s financial records because they did not involve taxpayer funds.

“I believe that instead of being criticized, Bunny deserves our support and even praise for her good work in providing an important tool for local law enforcement, again, at no taxpayer expense,” DiGiorgio said.

Reif has rejected the claims that she is acting out of partisan animus, and said that she was instead reacting to multiple complaints her office had received over the years about “improper spending” involving the K-9 program. She noted that while the K-9 unit is not funded directly by the county, some county resources, including the county website, was used to solicit the funds.

Reif approached the D.A.’s Office with results from her team’s audit on Friday. Prior to that, she said, she had met with the chairwoman of the county commissioners to inform her of her offices’s intention to ask the district attorney to open an investigation that would involve the sheriff’s office, a fellow elected official. Such a move is required by the Third Class County Code, she said.

The commissioners office confirmed that a meeting with Reif was convened.

“Per the process outlined in the state County Code, the controller met with commissioners’ Chair(woman) Michelle Kichline, then (now former) county Chief Operating Officer Mark Rupsis, and county Solicitor Tom Whiteman to provide a verbal overview of her audit,” said county Communications Officer Rebecca Brain Tuesday in a statement. Brain did not comment on the meeting otherwise.

Last month, the controller announced that the sheriff’s office had failed to fully comply with its subpoena for financial records from 2009 to the present concerning the sheriff’s K-9 Unit funding. The subpoena was issued after Welsh declined to voluntarily submit the K-9 Unit’s records to an audit by the Controller’s Office.

The sheriff provided the controller with only three years of records, from 2015, 2016, and 2017.

The K-9 unit is the largest of its kind in the southeastern Pennsylvania region, but is not funded by county tax dollars. Instead, Welsh has used grant money and private donations. The funds raised were meant to help defray the costs of the training, certification, veterinary care, shelter and food for the dogs, who have names like Luke, Nero, Dexter and Murphy.

The fundraising efforts have included golf outings, classic car shows, and “wild game” dinners, Welsh said. Over the years, estimates are that the fundraising has brought in “hundreds of thousands” of dollars that might otherwise have been paid for with taxpayer dollars, had the program been approved for funding by the county commissioners.

In his comment, Hogan said that his office made a contribution of $6,500 to the sheriff’s K-9 operation for the training of a drug dog. The contribution would present his office with potential conflict, he said.

“If a conflict in a potential criminal matter exists, we do not investigate any further because we would not want to interfere with or take steps not agreed to by the agency who is ultimately responsible for the investigation,” Hogan said in an email to the Daily Local News. “This is the same protocol that we follow when other agencies refer matters to us for an investigation because of a potential conflict – for instance, a local police department investigating one of their own township supervisors or an investigation from a different county.”

Welsh and her office have noted the popularity of the K-9 officers, their expertise, and the law enforcement benefits the group brings to the county and elsewhere. In a recent radio interview, Welsh boasted that her K-9 Unit was among “the finest in the country.”  The unit currently has nine canine officers, which specialize in bomb and drug detection, human tracking and comfort services. It has won several awards for its work over the years.

But funds for those dogs were also raised, notes Reif, with direct appeals to supporters through the county’s website, www.chesco,org. And that, among other factors, is what gives her the authority and reason to audit the K-9 Unit’s finances, she said. “This is strictly about hundreds of thousands of dollars solicited and received in the sheriff’s office, through the county website and flowing through a bank account that lists its address as 201 W. Market St. without any oversight,” she said last month.   Source

August 23, 2018
Chester County going after hotels, Airbnbs, for taxes; beefing up collections for dog and hunting licenses

West Chester >> For the past eight years, hotels in Chester County have had it good. Few paid taxes to the county’s Office of Treasury, and those that did, did so voluntarily.

“We’re starting to audit hotels,” said Patricia Maisano, recently elected Chester County treasurer. “We are letting hotels know we are here and we expect tax money to come to us.”

Collections for hunting licenses, dog licenses, pistol permits (for hunting) and small games of chance, including bingo, are also being ramped up, and a renewed effort is underway to ensure all taxes are collected. Dog license tax collections alone are already up 127 percent under Maisano’s tenure.

The county treasurer serves as the local authority, which represents Pennsylvania, in the sale of various state-controlled licenses. Chester County, for its services, receives a small percentage of the revenue.

It’s all due to the return to a full staffing complement at the Office of the Treasury, which can now focus on ensuring that revenues due the county are received and processed appropriately. Maisano said there are now 10 staff members in the Treasurer’s Office, all of whom are qualified. Before she was elected, there were only three on the staff, some of whom were temporary workers.

“The hotel tax has not been collected for eight years,” Maisano said. “I have renewed the hotel tax and also the Airbnb tax.”

Airbnb is a lodging reservation website that lets property owners list their spare room, apartment or home in thousands of cities worldwide. Airbnb has more than two million listings worldwide.

In the past eight months, Maisano instituted the Municipal Tax Collection option. The county Office of the Treasury now has expanded the ability to collect municipal taxes directly, streamlining the process and saving the taxpayer’s a fee for outside agency processing. Maisano said fixing the inefficient and expensive tax collection system across the county was her first and most prominent promise to voters during her 2017 campaign for treasurer.

There are currently 21 municipalities, covering at least 50,000 parcels of land who now take advantage of this new streamlined service. As a result, the costs associated with the collection of their municipal taxes are reduced, Maisano said. The Association of Municipalities has endorsed this option.

Those municipalities are: West Chester, Oxford, Atglen, South Coatesville, Modena, Honey Brook Borough and Honey Brook Township, West Caln, West Brandywine, West Pikeland, Valley, Charlestown, East Fallowfield, East Bradford, Willistown, Easttown, Penn, New Garden, Pocopson, Birmingham and Franklin.

Maisano said her goal is to get 70 Chester County municipalities into the Municipal Tax Collection option, because she said it could reduce their costs.

“This is money the county never had,” Maisano said. “It’s easily in the tens of thousands of dollars. When efficiency is up and taxes owed are collected, the overall burden to the public is reduced. This is like new-found money for the county.”  Source


From the Archives – see article following this one.
July 25, 2017
US Sheriffs Collaborate with Anti-Immigrant Hate Groups to Shocking Extent: Report

A new report shows how anti-immigrant groups are recruiting county sheriffs, who can expand mass deportation boundaries with little oversight.

County sheriffs in the U.S. are increasingly being recruited to the organized anti-immigrant movement and fringe nationalist groups in a bid to implement a dangerous agenda that breaks up families, deports people to their deaths and punishes survivors of domestic violence, a new report released Tuesday has revealed.

Titled “Crossing the Line,” the report from the Center for New Community details how county sheriffs have increasingly integrated with the U.S. far right, often becoming leading national voices advocating tough anti-immigrant measures and programs entangling local criminal law enforcement with federal civil immigration enforcement — such as Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, SB1070, and the “polimigra” 287(g) program.

“Over the past five years, anti-immigrant groups have taken their vitriol directly to law enforcement officials, particularly sheriffs, who can expand the boundaries of mass deportation with little oversight,” CNC Advocacy Director Lindsay Schubiner said in a press call Tuesday.

“Sheriffs who publicly ally with extremist anti-immigrant groups are aligning themselves with forces that target immigrants and communities of color, promote unconstitutional detention practices, and support racial profiling,”

In exchange for affiliating with right-wing anti-immigrant groups and ingratiating themselves within far-right circles, the sheriffs gain access to a national audience through anti-immigrant radio and television shows, funded trips to conferences and meetings hosted by the groups, and federal funding for county sheriff’s departments for detaining immigrants.

The report also fleshes out how county sheriffs and local police with no immigration enforcement authority often take matters into their own hands, targeting vulnerable migrant communities for harassment and the discretionary enforcement of laws within their mandate — such as traffic laws and minor criminal laws — for the purpose of supplementing federal immigration enforcement.

“We’ve been looking at the increasing radicalization of county sheriffs for a number of years,” Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said. “The idea that sheriffs are ultimate arbiters of the law is part of a long tradition of right wing thought.”

The three main anti-immigrant groups discussed in the report — NumbersUSA, the Federation for American Immigration Reform FAIR, and think-tank offshoot the Center for Immigration Studies — are each based in Washington, D.C., and were founded either directly or indirectly by white nationalist and proponent John Tanton. In 1993, the population control-obsessed Tanton argued that a “European-American majority” was needed “for European-American society and culture to persist” — a posture which posits immigrants as a threat.

“The current leaders of FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA downplay the significance of Tanton’s stewardship, but continue to advocate for extreme measures that marginalize immigrant communities and encourage devastating attrition through enforcement policies,” the report notes. “Such policies have the goal of making life so unstable and dangerous for immigrants that they are forced to leave the country.”

Recruitment efforts by FAIR directed toward law enforcement have a long history, but they didn’t reach fruition until 2011 when staffers with the group held meetings with sheriffs across the U.S. The meetings were featured in a promotional video screened by FAIR at a 2011 National Sheriffs’ Association meeting, where the group later reported that it “identified sheriffs who expressed concerns about illegal immigration,” and “supplied them with a steady stream of information, established regular conference calls so they could share information and experiences, and invited them to come to Washington to meet with FAIR’s senior staff.”

FAIR eventually formed a group called the National Sheriffs’ Immigration Coalition which held its first so-called “border school” in El Paso, Texas, in 2012. While the group extends financial assistance to some sheriffs who want to attend the event, other sheriffs have been caught dipping into county funds to pay for the trip.

“The recruitment detailed in this report is not coincidental, and shows the rise of county supremacy ideology, providing sheriffs with the twisted logic that as officers, they are above the law,” Lenz noted.

North Carolina Sheriffs Terry Johnson and Sam Page — strident voices advocating nativist policies — simply requested and received permission to use funds from the U.S. Justice Department’s civil asset forfeiture program, which allows law enforcement to commandeer the money and property of criminal suspects.

The itinerary at the non-accredited “border schools” includes events introducing law enforcement officials to extremist vigilantes such as the Texas Border Volunteers, a migrant-hunting militia that frequently robbed and illegally held captive those they found at the border.

The National Sheriffs’ Association has also formally embraced the anti-immigrant movement, and figures from the unofficial union have become activists publishing opinion pieces in newspapers, appearing at FAIR events, and working alongside the extremist group in legal actions meant to militarize the border and restrict temporary relief programs such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA and Deferred Action for Parents of American — DAPA programs.

Advocacy Groups Say ICE Budget Expansion Will Jeopardize Lives

The NSA also frequently extends its platform to anti-Muslim extremists like John Guandolo, a former FBI agent who proliferates crackpot theories about Muslims infiltrating the U.S. government and Muslim rights advocates being no more than “suit-wearing jihadis.”

The report also shows the extent to which sheriffs correspond with anti-immigrant groups, which has been hinted at through Freedom of Information Act requests — as well as the lengths to which they’ll go to conceal these associations, such as using personal email addresses usually exempt from public disclosure.

The growing influence of anti-immigrant groups isn’t restricted to county sheriffs alone. During his presidential election campaign, billionaire reality TV star Donald Trump repeatedly cited “studies” by FAIR and CIS to justify his migrant-scapegoating rhetoric.

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has also enjoyed close ties to the groups, which were once considered part of a far-right lunatic fringe prior to their integration into the mainstream U.S. conservative movement. Following Trump’s inauguration, the White House even appointed former FAIR head Julie Kirchner — a years-long associate of Tanton — as chief of staff at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency.

By illustrating the far-right politicization of law enforcement personnel, the report helps explain the alarming rise in civil rights violations and unconstitutional immigration enforcement attempts directed against Latino and immigrant communities across the U.S., whose anxiety and alienation has increased sharply during the Trump era.

“The ongoing collusion between the National Sheriffs’ Association, individual sheriffs, and the organized anti-immigrant movement is immensely troubling for anyone seeking to improve the U.S. criminal justice system,” the report notes in its conclusion. “Partnering with nativist groups and advocating for a shared agenda of disdain and destruction aimed at immigrant communities stands in direct contradiction to those efforts.”   Source

From the Archives
Daily Local News
Sheriff Bunny Welsh elected to new post
July 12, 2015

Chester County Sheriff, Carolyn Bunny Welsh, has been elected to the position of Sergeant-at-Arms of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA). She was sworn into the position at the National Sheriffs’ Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. This is the first time a woman has been elected to the executive level of the NSA in the 75-year history of the association.

Sheriff Welsh has served as Sheriff of Chester County since January 2000. She has served on the NSA Board of Directors for four years, and she also serves on the Ethics Training and Accreditation Committee and the Legislative Committee.

Welsh is past-president of the Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association and has been named to the Hall of Fame of the International Police Association.

“Sheriff Welsh brings experience, good judgment and great talent to the NSA board,” commented NSA President Sheriff Danny Glick, from Laramie County, Wyoming. “We are pleased to work with her on issues affecting sheriffs throughout the nation. She has shown an enthusiasm and a willingness to work with all levels of government for the betterment of the citizens of Chester County, Pennsylvania and other counties throughout the country.”  Source

August 23, 2018
The Inquirer
Chester County officials spar over dogged audit of sheriff’s K-9 Unit

A dispute is brewing in Chester County, with tensions running high among county officials over how much money is being thrown to the dogs.

Earlier this month, Controller Margaret Reif issued a subpoena to Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, seeking to examine the finances of the K-9 unit operated by the Sheriff’s Office, and supported largely by grant money and donations.

Weeks later, the probe has plodded forward, with Reif contending that her office has had to sift through an incomplete set of financial records from the last nine years, the period before a nonprofit was formed to handle the unit’s fund-raising efforts. Those statements, she said, indicate that the unit received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” that passed through an account managed by county employees.

Welsh has said her office is fully cooperating with the probe despite her “grave concerns” about the audit’s objectivity.

“I think it’s unfortunate that this was not handled differently,” Welsh said. “Because now, these actions have created a confrontational situation that I felt was unnecessary.”

This is the first time in recent memory that an elected official in Chester County has subpoenaed a colleague. And it has spawned accusations of partisan motivation: Reif is a Democrat who took office in January. Welsh, a Republican and vocal supporter of President Trump, has held her position for 18 years.

Reif has fired back against those claims, which have been plastered across the pages of local newspapers.

“Since taking office, while fulfilling my duties pursuant to the county code, I have come across multiple issues that needed to be addressed in the Sheriff’s Office,” she said in a statement. “I didn’t go to the press, but rather sat down with their office to work out ways to correct the problems. It is not now, nor has it ever been, my intention to use my job as a political tool. Campaigns are for politics, governing is not.”

Reif said her concerns with the K-9 unit were catalyzed by a tip to her office about “improper spending.” She later discovered that similar tips had been sent to her predecessor, Norman MacQueen, a Republican, but that no investigation had been initiated.

So, Reif contacted Welsh earlier in the summer, asking for records for the K-9 unit’s finances. Welsh initially agreed to cooperate, Reif said, but later sent a letter saying her office couldn’t comply with the request.

To hear Welsh’s staff tell it, that refusal came from the belief that Reif didn’t have the authority to audit money that didn’t come from the county’s general fund. And because the K-9 unit has always been run on donations, including in-kind charity from veterinarians, officials in the Sheriff’s Office believed there were no grounds for an audit.

If Chester County were to take on the expense of the K-9 unit, Welsh said, it would put a $100,000 annual strain on the county’s budget, based on current expenses.

Because the fund-raising has been handled by county employees, and included events that used county resources, Reif said, she could use her authority to audit the account. So, the subpoena was issued, asking for bank statements, lists of assets, contracts, receipts, and other records.

In response, Welsh asked the head of the nonprofit Friends of the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit if it would be willing to hand over some those records, according to Dawson R. Muth, solicitor for Welsh’s office. Last week, staff from the Controller’s Office began sifting through the first batch of the documents.

“She has nothing to hide. The sheriff has played by the rules for nine years, and now the controller wants to change the rules,” Muth said. “This money was raised by fund-raisers — it’s not secret, it’s not hidden. And all of a sudden it’s now subject to an audit by the county controller.”

From about 2009 onward, employees in the Sheriff’s Office seemed to be managing those finances, according to Reif. An initial review of the documents Welsh produced shows that members of her staff had signing authority, and that all checks and statements were mailed to her office in West Chester.

Still, Welsh said, the people managing the account don’t report to her directly. She added that they began the process of forming a nonprofit to handle the fund-raising process about a year ago.

In February, the Friends of the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit registered with the Department of State and was granted nonprofit status a few months later. State records list Brad DeSando as the incorporator. DeSando is a corporal in the Sheriff’s Office.

The K-9 unit was formed in 2006, with grant money helping to acquire two bomb-sniffing dogs. Despite being initially “unsuccessful,” according to Welsh, the unit grew in reputation and acclaim, winning national awards in 2016 for cadaver recovery and narcotics detection.

Today, the unit has nine active dogs, with three more in training. It’s the largest K-9 unit in the region operated by a sheriff’s office. Most, including Philadelphia’s, have no more than three dogs.

Welsh says the size of her office’s unit has more to do with a declining trend in local K-9 units in Chester County. Her office’s dogs support 57 law enforcement agencies, of which only two, police at Lincoln and West Chester Universities, have dogs. The K-9 unit, she said, fields about 100 requests a year from different agencies.

In 2016, the county organized a K-9 training academy, with members of the unit providing services to other law enforcement agencies in the region. The academy, the only one of its kind in the Philadelphia area, is a source of income for the county, according to Welsh. But she noted that the revenue goes into the general fund, not back to her unit.

“I’m extremely proud of this K-9 unit and its development over the last few years,” Welsh said. “You cannot measure the value of these dogs.”    Source

August 18, 2018
Audit bugs ‘Bunny,’ she fires back at controller in records flap

WEST CHESTER >> An attorney for the Chester County Sheriff’s Office has pushed back against an assertion by the county controller that the office had not fully complied with a subpoena of financial records for the sheriff’s K-9 Unit, asserting that the comments smacked of partisanship.

“It is entirely inappropriate for the controller to leak certain things to the press in piecemeal fashion,” stated attorney Dawson R. Muth, the Sheriff’s Office solicitor and partner with the law firm of Lamb McErlane in West Chester, responding to a story in the Daily Local News in which Controller Margaret Reif said that her office was “not at all satisfied with the compliance of the subpoena” issued against Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh earlier this month.

“That is a clear indication that this exercise is merely a personal political attack on the sheriff,” Muth wrote in an e-mail. “To say the sheriff has not been cooperating with the controller is disingenuous. The controller’s staff has been in the sheriff’s office for days, tying up both controller’s personnel and sheriff’s office personnel.

“Reams of paper have been used copying records that have been provided to the controller,” Muth said. “They copied every deposit slip, every check, every receipt and every spreadsheet provided. They went through these records with a fine-toothed comb. Dozens of hours of work auditing accounts containing no county funds.”

But officials with the Controller’s Office maintained that it had received less than half of the records that Welsh had been asked to produce — only three years of receipts and disbursements from the K-9 fund, which both sides acknowledge involved hundreds of thousands of dollars. Reif has previously dismissed charges of partisanship.

Muth’s response comes as the two elected officials are in a confrontation over the Controller’s Office attempt to review financial records concerning the sheriff’s 10-member K-9 Unit. Reif and her staff of professional auditors consider the money that was raised with the help of the county’s website to be under her authority to audit as the county’s financial watchdog. Welsh has asserted, to the contrary, that the money is a private account not subject to review by the controller.

The accusation of partisanship arises from the fact that Reif is a Democrat, the first woman elected from that party to the important position of controller, while Welsh is a Republican, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump and the longest serving row officer in the county’s history, with 17 years as sheriff.

In June, Reif’s office sent a letter to Welsh informing her of its intention to conduct an audit of the records involving the K-9 Unit, which is fully supported by private donations and fundraising efforts like golf outings and “wild game” dinners. The county does not budget money for the care, upkeep, or training of the K-9 officers, popular icons of the Sheriff’s Office with names like Luke and Nero and Dexter and Murphy.

According to Reif, Welsh refused to permit the audit, maintaining that the funds were not under her control but that of a non-profit organization that had been formed in February, the Friends of the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit. In response, Reif issued a subpoena requiring Welsh to appear for an examination under oath, and production of financial records involving the K-9 unit.

Reif and her office’s solicitor, attorney Anthony Verwey of the West Chester law firm of Gawthrop Greenwood, on Friday gave specific details of what records had been sought in the subpoena, and which had been made available to the auditors for copying and inspection.

According to Verwey, the subpoena demanded bank account records and other items – records of stocks and mutual funds, receipts and expenditures, tax filings and donor acknowledgment letters – connected with the Chester County Sheriff K9 account at the Bryn Mawr Trust bank from 2009, when the unit was formed, until the present. Fewer than half the years of the account’s existence were provided, he said.

“On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the sheriff and an employee, who maintained some or all of the requested records, permitted the controller’s staff to copy approximately three years of records (2015-2017),” he wrote in an email. “On Wednesday of this week, signature cards for one of the bank accounts, at Bryn Mawr Trust, were received for the years 2013 through 2018. However, the controller’s auditor is still working through the documentation provided. Documents for years 2009 through 2014 and 2018 have not yet been produced.

The questions that Welsh was asked under oath included issues related to the auditing and documentation of the K-9 Unit. Verwey declined to summarize Welsh’s responses to those questions, but said that a transcript of the questioning was being prepared for review. The session was overseen by Reif, who administered the oath, and lasted about one hour, he said.

“I believe (the Sheriff’s Office) is trying to gather the additional bank records,” he said. “In my experience, generally those documents should be available somewhere. But I am not sure how keeping those records was managed or overseen by whoever was in charge of those records.”

Asked to characterized the response, Verwey was circumspect. “I think it is fair to say that it has been slow, the sheriff’s response has been very slow,” he said in an interview Friday.

Reif also expanded on her earlier statement that the sheriff had not fully complied with her subpoena.

“While we are still in the preliminary stages of the audit, and we only have some of the records required by the subpoena, I can confirm that we are looking at several hundred thousands of dollars in income raised and spent using county assets without any oversight,” she said Friday.

“I am hopeful that the sheriff will fully comply with the subpoena by providing my office with all of the documents required by the end of next week,” said Reif.

Also on Friday, the county commissioners office issued a statement distancing itself from the matter. The county has never formally funded the K-9s.

“The Chester County Sheriff is an independent elected official,” it read. “The K-9 Unit is managed by the Sheriff’s Office. As an independent official the sheriff can make her own policy decisions about how programs are operated and managed. All independent elected officials’ policy decisions are subject to the county code and other state and federal laws.”

The statement also mentioned the sheriff’s K-9 Academy, in which members of the staff, including K-9 Unit supervisor Lt. Harry McKinney, contract with other law enforcement agencies to train and certify K-9 officers, and the unit’s use of the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus.

“It is, and has been, the commissioners’ understanding that the K-9 unit and training academy were to be supported by funds raised by the sheriff,” it stated. “The Public Safety Training Campus has been used by the K-9 unit for training and, similar to other Chester County public safety agencies, was not charged a fee. The Sheriff’s K‐9 Program helps to protect the courts and county buildings and is also called upon by many municipalities, schools, first responder, civic and community organizations.

In his comments, Muth referenced the fact that the Sheriff’s Office had already undergone its annual audit, and had received a relatively clean appraisal.

“The Sheriff’s Office undergoes an audit each year,” he said. “The 2017 audit was finalized earlier this year by the controller. The Sheriff’s Office position is that the controller has no right or authority to reopen a finalized audit. However, in the spirit of cooperation and transparency several prior years of records of the private fundraising efforts in support of the K-9 Unit were provided to the controller for her review. The K-9 unit would not exist without these private fundraising efforts.

‘The sheriff is very proud of the work the deputies and civilians have done in support of this nationally recognized unit that provides great service to the citizens of Chester County at little cost to the taxpayers,” Muth said.

Reif and Verwey, however, have stated that the records sought in the subpoena concern not the audit of the Sheriff’s Office itself, but rather the money that was raised over nine years through outreach efforts on the office’s pages on www.chesco.org, the county’s official website.   Source

August 14, 2018
Controller not happy with sheriff’s records

WEST CHESTER >> Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh has not fully complied with the subpoena the county Controller’s Office issued against her for records concerning her office’s K-9 Unit, the controller says.

“Our office is not at all satisfied with the compliance of the subpoena,” Controller Margaret Reif told the Daily Local News on Wednesday in an email. “We have received, and are currently reviewing, only a portion of what was required of the sheriff.”

Reif confirmed last week that her office had taken the rare and unusual step of issuing a subpoena against a county elected official to turn over documents that her office had requested as part of a formal audit, but which had been refused by the sheriff. The records involve funds that were raised by the Sheriff’s Office privately, but through the county’s website, to support the 10-member K-9 unit.

Those who sent donations to the K-9 unit, or purchased K-9 items from the sheriff’s web page were instructed to make checks payable to “CCSK9” — an abbreviation for “Chester County Sheriff’s K-9” — and send them in care of Lt. Harry McKinney, the office’s K-9 trainer and supervisor, at the county Justice Center.

“CCSK9 was never registered as a charitable organization, nor does it appear that there was anything more than a bank account held in that name,” Reif said Wednesday. “And yet, someone set up an unsanctioned landing page on the county website for soliciting and raising funds using the county mailing address, emails, and employees.

“As such, requesting an accounting of all bank records associated with this miscellaneous account, is absolutely within my purview as county controller,” she said.

Reif did not specify what records had been turned over, and which might still be outstanding.

Attorney Dawson R. Muth, the sheriff’s solicitor, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Last week, Muth said that funds for the K-9 unit were not county records and thus not under the authority of the controller. Welsh, however, said she would voluntarily make them available because CCSK-9 had “done such good work raising funds to provide the county with a first-class K-9 unit.” The money raised, the office indicated, totaled more than $100,000.

The office formed a nonprofit organization, the Friends of the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit, a month after Reif, a Democrat, was sworn in as the county’s financial watchdog.

Meanwhile, another matter involving the sheriff’s K-9 unit and its financial dealings is still making its way trough the county courts, two years after it first came to light.

In 2016, a Delaware County automobile dealer filed a lawsuit against the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, claiming that it was owed the $30,000 price of a car it transferred and refitted for use as a K-9 unit vehicle.

The dispute, which centers on whether the 2014 Dodge Durango was a sale to the county or a gift to the sheriff, is listed on Common Pleas Judge Edward R. Griffith’s trial docket for Aug. 27. It is not expected to go to trial this month, however, as there are several cases ahead of it on Griffith’s list.

Attorney Thomas Schindler of Kennett Square, who represents Videon Chysler Dodge Jeep of Newtown Square, said Wednesday in a telephone interview that he had hoped to have the matter disposed of expeditiously after filing the suit in March 2016.

“That hasn’t happened,” he said. “It has been difficult.”

Attorney Guy Donatelli, of the West Chester firm Lamb McErlane, is representing the county in the matter. He declined comment on the suit Thursday, saying it was still in litigation. He noted, however, that it was being “actively defended.”

In this case, the value of the Durango, which was later refurbished to allow for use as a K-9 vehicle, including a rear compartment dog cage, was set at more than $30,000. After months of trying to settle what he considered the debt and being put off by McKinney, dealership owner Steve Videon said he was told that the Durango had, in the Sheriff’s Office’s view, been given as a gift to support the K-9 unit.

McKinney also told Videon that he understood that repairs done by the dealership to other vehicles in the sheriff’s fleet that were damaged in a summer hail storm, costing more than $3,600, were done at no cost to the office, according to the suit.

The outcome of the case may rest on the role played by Michael McVeigh, Videon’s former sales manager.

According to the suit, McKinney and Videon met to discuss the situation in March 2015, a year after the Durango had been transferred — whether by contract or donation — to the Sheriff’s Office. At that time, McKinney told Videon that McVeigh, “had told him that (Videon) was ‘donating’” the Durango to the Sheriff’s Office for its use. McVeigh had worked at the dealership for two years, but had resigned from that position several months prior, according to the suit.

In a follow-up letter to the discussion that was attached to the complaint, Videon told McKinney that he had approved no such arrangement, something that would have needed his okay. “This is the first time I had heard this,” he wrote. “Please understand this was done without my knowledge or consent. Therefore, I cannot donate the vehicle.”

Schindler said that to his knowledge, the car is still being used by the Sheriff’s Office.


Note: Looks like the sheriff’s spokesman is using Trump language…”witch hunt” and “Johnny come lately” . View Trump’s nicknames here
August 10, 2018
Chesco controller issues subpoena for K-9 money records

WEST CHESTER >> The Chester County Controller’s Office has taken the unusual step of issuing a subpoena to obtain financial records from the county Sheriff’s Office related to its K-9 unit so funds raised for the unit’s support can be audited.

A spokesman for the sheriff, in response to the subpoena, called the effort “political witch hunting” by a “Johnny come lately” against an elected official who has won national acclaim for her work in office. He promised that the sheriff would cooperate with the controller’s investigation, however.

Controller Margaret Reif confirmed on Friday that the subpoena had been sent to the Sheriff’s Office earlier this month, several weeks after it refused to voluntarily comply with an Audit Engagement letter asking to review records for the K-9 unit in June. Reif said her staff was told that because the K-9 Unit’s support effort was not under the direct control of Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, the office was under no obligation to provide the records for inspection by the controller.

But Reif pointed out that the Sheriff’s Office had – up until recently – been using the county’s website, www.chesco.org, to promote and advertise ways for people to send private donations to help support the K-9 unit. That inclusion made the organization’s finances part of her purview.

“We want to take a look at the entity that is supporting the K-9s,” Reif said in an interview with the Daily Local News. “We want to see how that money is being used. That is part of my responsibility as controller: to oversee funds that are being raised by the county.”

Reif said that the Sheriff’s Office could have set up a nonprofit organization to help support the K-9 unit when it began raising money, and that would have been out of her authority to audit. But in using the county’s website, it opened itself for review of those financial records by the controller.

Asked how much money the Sheriff’s Office had raised through the website donations over the years, Reif said she did not know. “That’s what I’m looking for,” she said. “That’s my job.”

She stressed tthat her office’s audit had not found any deficienes with the Sherrif’s Office normal financial transactions. But questions about the extra-curricular K-9 Unit continued.

Reif said she had met with Welsh in response to her subpoena on Friday morning, but that no records were turned over or made available to her staff. She said she anticipates another follow-up meeting next week at which time her auditors might be given access to the records dealing with the K-9 Unit.

“It was our hope that the Sheriff’s Office would have cooperated with the audit request when it was made seven weeks ago, but after receiving a letter telling me that the sheriff would not and could not produce the paperwork required for the audit, we were left with no other option but to issue a subpoena,” Reif said in a statement.

Said Welsh in an e-mail to the Daily Local News, “Even though our attorneys thought that the controller has no authority to request the records of an independent organization, I requested that the nonprofit provide the controller with access to its records since they have done such good work raising funds to provide the county with a first-class K-9 unit.”

In response to Reif’s actions, attorney Dawson R. Muth of the West Chester law firm of Lamb McErlane, who is the solicitor for the Sheriff’s Office, said that Welsh had agreed to cooperate with the controller on multiple occasions in the past in connection with the K-9 unit records, but that Reif had decided to take the rare step of issuing a subpoena for political purposes. (Reif is a Democrat; Welsh is a Republican and among the county’s staunchest supporters of President Donald Trump.) He also issued a stinging defense of Welsh’s career.

“Sheriff Welsh turned a ‘rag-tag’ office with a bunch of guys in brown shirts into a nationally recognized, professional sheriff’s office,” Muth said in a statement Friday. “We have attempted to cooperate from day one. Now, the six-month, Johnny Come Lately steps in and seeks records for a private fundraising effort. It’s the basest, worst form of political witch hunting that I can imagine.”

The sheriff’s K-9 unit is a well publicized and highly popular part of the office, with public events and promotional appearances by K-9 officers with names like Luke and Nero and Dexter and Murphy at local schools and organizations The officers have particular skills such as bomb or drug detection, tracking criminal suspects, or hunting down lost children.

The dogs are on display almost daily in the county Justice Center, with 10 K-9 teams deployed throughout the building at various times and places.

But the unit is not funded with taxpayer money from the office’s annual county budget, which totaled $6.537 million in 2018. There is no line item in the budget for the K-9s, although their partners, those deputy sheriffs who work with the dogs, are county employees.

Instead, the costs of the K-9 unit, which might include training and certification, food, shelter, and veterinary expenses, are borne either by their handlers or with help from fundraising efforts that are the subject of the controller’s inquiries. (Some funds are also raised through invoicing outside agencies that request the use of the K-9 services.)

In a page seen up until recently on the county website soliciting donations, interested people could purchase Chester County K-9 calendars, with the profile of a new officer team every month; T-shirts with a K-9 picture; Chester County Sheriff Office shoulder patches; or a lapel pin. The items cost between $7 and $25.

Those wishing to make a donation could do so via PayPal or credit card, and select an option to make a monthly donation.

Inquiries about the program or items for sale, or those wanting to make direct donation, were to be sent to Lt. Harry McKinney, who supervises the K-9 unit, at his county email address, or to his private Gmail account. The page – Reif said was taken down about three weeks ago, after her office’s audit request – was part of the Sheriff’s Office section on the county website and featured images of the sheriff’s insignia.

Those ordering items were instructed to make checks payable to “CCSK 9” and send them to the Sheriff’s Office in the Justice Center.

Reif’s decision to issue a subpoena – which she is empowered to do under the state’s County Code – is the first time in memory that a controller has done so. She said she understood that there had been questions asked in the past about the K-9 Unit’s fundraising activity, but did not believe any audit was ever begun of the funds.

By state law, the controller has the authority to set accounting standards, audit the county’s fiscal records, aid in overseeing its pension, and to investigate “fraud, flagrant abuse of public office or any act or neglect of any officer or other county employee.”

“The assertion that this is a political with hunt is absurd, frankly,” said attorney Anthony Verwey of the West Chester law firm of Gawthrop Greenwood, in response to Muth’s accusation “The controller is doing her job.”

Verwey noted that the fundraising effort by those in the Sheriff’s Office had only been certified as a nonprofit organization – the Friends of the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit – in February, and that it had continued raising money through the county’s website until recently. Those funds raised previously – which Muth and Welsh said were significant – had never been audited by the county controller or by any other agency.

“There was no legal group handling those funds” until this year, a month after Reif took office. “It was never audited by anybody.”

Said Reif: “Personal and uncivil attacks are inappropriate. The audit request by my office was simple, straightforward and well within the scope of my duties as Controller to conduct an audit of a miscellaneous account. It appears there is a great deal of money that has been raised over many years using the county website, county resources and county employees. That money has never been subject to audit by the county controller or to our knowledge the Commonwealth.

It was our hope that the Sheriff’s Office would have cooperated with the audit request when it was made 7 weeks ago, but after receiving a letter telling me that the Sheriff would not and could not produce the paperwork required for the audit, we were left with no other option but to issue a subpoena.

“I’m proud of the work done by our K-9 unit,” said Welsh in her statement. “The hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds and services from private sources over the last nine years has provided Chester County law enforcement a valuable tool without a burden to the taxpayers.

“These amazing K-9s provide public safety, they are a security presence in the courthouse,” she added. “They are essential in clearing schools when there is a bomb threat. They search to find lost children. They locate dangerous drugs. Our comfort dog helps care for children under stress in the courts. Their value cannot be measured.”     Source

June 24, 2018
Big crowd rallies at courthouse against Trump immigration policies

A protestor on the steps of the historical Chester County Courthouse takes part in rally protesting the Trump administration’s immigration policies and in support local immigrant communities Sunday night in West Chester.
A protestor on the steps of the historical Chester County Courthouse takes part in rally protesting the Trump administration’s immigration policies and in support local immigrant communities Sunday night in West Chester. PETE BANNAN – DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA

Counter-protesters across the street stand in support of President Trump’s hard line on immigration.
Counter-protesters across the street stand in support of President Trump’s hard line on immigration. PETE BANNAN – DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA

WEST CHESTER >> A large crowd of people turned out Sunday evening on the steps of the historical Chester County Courthouse to hold a protest vigil against the Trump administration’s immigration policies and in support local immigrant communities.

“This started with the separation of children from their families, but Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is a problem,” said event co-organizer Beth Sweet. “We want a clean DACA, a legal process for immigrants to enter the United States and reunification of families. There is no reason to detain families.”

West Chester Mayor Dianne Herrin chastised the president for giving the nation little choice.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Herrin said. “President Trump is giving us false choices. We need to stand up to his policies.”

Co-organizer Clair Witzleben when asked about Trump’s claim of large numbers of MS-13 drug gang members flowing into the country, said the president is taking an isolated situation and blowing it out of proportion. “He’s using it to smear all immigrants,” she said.

“We will not allow the torture of children,” called out Witzleben. “Show me what democracy looks like.”

“This is what democracy looks like,” answered the crowed.

For his part, despite signing an executive order ending the separation of families earlier this week, Trump was on the campaign trail this weekend and again talking tough on immigration.

On Sunday Trump compared people entering the U.S. from Mexico to invaders and said they should be immediately sent back without appearing before a judge.

More than 2,000 children are believed to have been separated from their parents before the policy was terminated. Trump officials have struggled to explain where all the children are and how they will be reunited with their parents.

The American Civil Liberties Union said in response that such a step would be illegal and violate the Constitution that Trump swore to uphold,

“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” the president said on Twitter. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.”

A number of women at the West Chester protest had writing on the back of their jackets similar to Melania Trump’s infamous “I don’t care” jacket, but theirs said “I do care.” One belonged to the Rev. Phoebe Kitson-Davis of West Chester.

“I care, we all should care,” Kitson-Davis said. “We need to work together to solve the problems. We need to learn how to share better, we need to help those in Central and South America.”

“I’m glad to see Congressman (Ryan) Costello, R-6 of West Goshen, speak out that Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is the cause of the crisis,” said Sweet.

Three counter protesters stood across street holding signs speaking out against illegal immigration. They declined to give their names. One man said this (illegal immigration) is a full-blown invasion of this country the only thing missing is are assault weapons.

“And I’m not some guy who has anger problems,” he said. “These people (illegal immigrants) don’t love the country, they are only coming here for the dinero.”

Garden Maguerian, a lawyer from Phoenixville, took the microphone to tell about being an immigrant from Uruguay and coming to this country in 1978.

“For my family, America more than lived up to their commitment to immigration, but now at the border children are mocked, and deprived of any emotional support or comfort when separated from their families,” Maguerian said.“One year ago did anyone think our government would be capable of inflicting such horrors? We are in a crisis. It is no time for apathy when the soul of our country is under threat. Let us work to again define America as a land of hope.”

One of the most stirring moments came from Sofia Soto, a 2018 graduate of Kennett High School who told the story of her father, who has been trying to get his immigration papers and as part of the process checked in with the immigration service. He has been detained since May 9. She said the uncertainty has wreaked havoc with her family. She ended her talk by calling on everyone to vote.

Organizers also called on those in attendance to vote, register other and to contact their congressman and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

The rally was hosted by the East Goshen Democrats and the Concerned Constituent Action Group, both progressive county organizations. A coalition of action and advocacy groups from across the state also participated, including Shut Down Berks Coalition, ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Religious Council of Greater West Chester, Way Forward, the Chester County Peace Movement, Indivisible Chester County, Make the Road Action in PA, March for Our Lives West Chester, Indivisible Berks and Shut Down Berks Interfaith Witness.

Leo Olsen talked about the Berks County Detention Center run by ICE and called for its closure.

Alisha Jones, president and chief executive officer of La Communidad Hispana of Kennett Square, the longtime provider of health and social services for Latino immigrants in the county, thanked the crowd for their support.

During the vigil a downpour soaked the protesters, but few if any left. As the storm passed to the east a rainbow appeared, a hopeful sign for many in attendance.  Source

May 20, 2018
Two counties tell the tale of a growing education gap
The increasing importance of education on income, lifestyle and opportunity are on display in Pennsylvania.

WEST CHESTER, Penn. — In a country marked by deep political divides, higher education has become another partisan marker, with polls showing that Americans who have a college degree trending toward Democrats in their politics and less likely to support President Donald Trump.

The political shorthand that’s evolved around education, however, misses a larger point.

For decades a college education has been held up as just one entry point for those seeking a bigger paycheck, broadened career choices and more opportunity.

But in the 21st century, it’s become more about keeping up with the middle class than a path to the upper-middle — and the importance of that is growing.

In 2016, the median earnings figure for a high school graduate was $29,969, up about $4,000 from 2005, according to census data. But for those who had a bachelor’s degree, the median earnings figure was $51,676, up nearly $8,000 from 2005. In other words, not only were the earnings of college-educated people higher, it was growing faster.

And income is only one measure. Data from a variety of sources shows that college-educated people are more likely to live in urban settings, to hold full-time jobs, own their homes and vote. In short, while a college education isn’t necessarily a measure of intelligence, it is an increasingly important measure of economic prosperity and lifestyle.

There are plenty of numbers demonstrating those differences, but to see it from the ground-level, NBC News examined two counties in Pennsylvania — Chester and Schuylkill.

The percentage of people with bachelor’s degrees in those two areas looks very different — about 50 percent in Chester and roughly 15 percent in Schuylkill — and the presidential vote that came out of them looked nothing alike in 2016. But those facts only scratch the surface of the split between Chester and Schuylkill, two places that are 70 miles and a world away from each other.


Just outside of Philadelphia, on the edge of the Main Line train, the borough of West Chester offers an example of what life is like in a place where college degrees are plentiful. About 53 percent of the people who live here hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to the national average of about 30 percent, and life is marked by a lot of consumer options and higher costs. The average home listing in the county sits at just over $400,000, according to Zillow, and median household income is close to $90,000.

The commuters here show up at the Exton train station at 7:30 am with coffee cups in their hands that they could have gotten from one of the many Starbucks in the area. Or, perhaps, they stopped off to get some avocado toast at the nearby Famous Toastery.

Image: Downtown West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Downtown West Chester, Pennsylvania.NBC News

“This is home. It’s incredibly beautiful,” says John Young, who works at a website design firm in Philadelphia. “There’s a tremendous amount of open space. Chester County is one of the most affluent counties in Pennsylvania, and the way that shows is in the amount of open space, in the educated population. If you’ve been in downtown West Chester, you know there’s lots and lots of educated folks there.”

And lots of ways to spend money at restaurants, boutiques and cafes. The downtown Starbucks sits across from a microbrewery and both are just down the street from an art-deco theater that was turned into a specialty hotel. There’s a Barnes & Noble bookstore near the Exton train stop, but also smaller used book stores downtown and the massive Baldwin’s Book Barn just outside of it — all economic activity that creates jobs.

These points are not empty details. Data from Simmons Research, a marketing and profiling firm, shows how much they are part of a larger cultural and economic narrative that comes with a college education. People with a four-year degree are much more likely to dine out, visit a museum or read a book.

And Chester County is growing. Since 2010, the county has added about 20,000 people and seen the percentage of adults with a college degree climb by about 2.5 percentage points.

In part, that’s because of what is expected in Chester. College-graduate parents tend to beget college-graduate children. And that is apparent talking to the guidance counselors at West Chester’s Henderson High School which is ranked in the top 30 high schools in the state, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of the 2018 class is headed off to a four-year college next fall, according to administrators, and by senior year they’ve been thinking about their next educational step for some time.

The expectations are often set by parents before the students’ freshman year, says Assistant Principal Andrew Grear. “I think kids have that model, and they see that, and they see the life their parents have provided for them, working in these different jobs outside of West Chester. And that’s a huge influence to where, you know, their thinking is starting to take shape, even in middle school.”

Even for the students who would be the first to attend college in their family, the community’s educational expectations weigh heavily, he says. “They look at, you know, a college degree’s going to open more doors than without. And I don’t want to, you know, be detailing cars or doing some lower-paying job, then I’m going to be in my mid-20s, wanting to start a family, where do I go?”

Politically speaking, Chester County flipped to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 (she won it by nine points) after it voted for Republican Mitt Romney narrowly in 2012. And in some ways it is a prime example of why the Trump-era GOP is struggling with college-educated voters.

The president’s message aimed at voters who feel “left behind” in the global economy is not well-designed for this community.

May 15, 2018
Daily Local
Van de Krol looks to modernization, cost savings

Submitted photoYolanda Van de Krol was elected Chester County Clerk of Courts in 2017, and is looking to modernize the office.
Submitted photoYolanda Van de Krol was elected Chester County Clerk of Courts in 2017, and is looking to modernize the office. 

WEST CHESTER >> Before Yolanda Van de Krol was elected Chester County Clerk of Courts in 2017, she was like most of her neighbors — slightly mystified about what, exactly, the clerk of courts did?

Since taking office, Van De Krol has taken it upon herself and her office not only to inform the public about what the office functions are, but to make it easier for people who come in contact with the court system to navigate its various passages and byways.

Within the past several weeks, Van de Krol’s and her staff have upgraded the office’s web site on www.chesco.org, making forms and steps available for people who need to access the system, and preparing the way for a switch to an internet based, e-filing system that she foresees saving not only time but money.

“We have a nice long list of things we want to do to make the office more efficient and to save tax dollars,” Van de Krol said in an interview last week. “There is a lot of misconception about what we do, so we want to go about helping people who have to use the system.”

For those who don’t know, the Clerk of Courts manages all paperwork for all criminal cases in the county Court of Common Pleas, unlike the county Prothonotary, which handles those filing associated with civil cases. If you are appealing a speeding ticket from a District Court hearing, want to erase the records of that pesky drunk driving charge you got seven years ago, or — heaven forbid — are facing felony charges, the Clerk of Courts is where all records come and go.

The clerk’s office also assesses fines, costs and restitution and collects the fees in conjunction with the Chester County Adult Probation and Parole Department. The office staffs all criminal, juvenile and dependency hearings held in Common Pleas Court to ensure that the paperwork is completed with efficiency and accuracy. Ask any prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge and they will tell you those from the clerks’ office play an indispensable role in the county criminal justice system.

Van de Krol wanted first to upgrade the office’s web site to make certain people had the chance to get their questions about how to do something like file a request for an expungement answered as quickly as possible. Not only would that help the public, she knew, but it would also free up the time her staff members spend on the phone explaining things.

“We make things very explicit on the web site,” she said of the changes that have been instituted. “Everyone’s questions should be answered if they go to the website.”

More than that change, Van deKrol decided to begin the process of allowing attorneys and parties to file paperwork electronically, as well as to look into the option of having “cloud” storage instead of shelves of paper case files.

“Right now, every person has to walk their papers into the office, no matter if they are a lawyer in West Chester or Philadelphia,” she said. Within a year, she said that parties would be able to scan their documents — motions, pleadings, appeals — and e-file them. The e-file system is maintained by the state’s Unified Judicial System, and would come with no fees attached for the county.

More than that, Van de Krol said a plan to begin cloud-based storage would also be paid for by the state, saving county taxpayers the $100,000 of so annual costs associated with paying for the storage.

“It should make everything a lot easier,” she said. “As long as you are proficient in technology, it will make thing a lot more efficient,” she said of the e-file option.

Van de Krol says she realizes that her desire for modernization and financial savings is “a work in progress,” but compliments her staff at making things easier to accomplish. “I think the staff is absolutely amazing. We have 28 people here and everybody has been working to make the system work really great.”  Source

Jan 22, 2018
Chester Co.’s powerhouse mushroom farms have a new vision to expand: growing veggies indoors

Chris Alonzo grows 10 million pounds of mushrooms a year in a Chester County warehouse the size of two football fields. It represents only half of his fungal empire. Alonzo, president of Pietro Industries in Kennett Square, owns two more farms that produce an additional 10 million pounds.

He’s looking to diversify.

“I’m excited about getting into something else,” Alonzo said, sliding open a door of a grow room. Inside the steamy space, mushrooms are fruiting in a loamy mixture of peat moss and compost. The beds — 60 feet long– were stacked like bunks. Seven levels reached to the ceiling.

“We could grow almost anything in here,” Alonzo said. “A few minor adjustments and we could grow lettuce.”

That could happen soon. Especially if the county and its farmers choose to embrace vertical farming. Alonzo, chair of the Chester County Agricultural Development Council, is bullish on it.

The mushroom industry faces intense economic pressures, driving producers to look for new ideas if agriculture is going to continue to flourish. The tiny pocket of land centered on Kennett Square, at the edge of Philadelphia’s western suburbs, produces about a half-billion pounds of fresh mushrooms every year; That means half of the mushrooms consumed in the United States come from Chester County.

Mushroom consumption has leveled off across the nation. The Canadians have gained a competitive advantage due to a disparity in currency exchange rates. With the crop selling for about $1 per pound wholesale, farms run on the thinnest of margins.

It’s also increasingly difficult to hire Mexican migrants to pick the crop. In recent years, a chronic labor shortage has caused 10 percent of the crop to go unharvested. As federal immigration agencies step up enforcement, that’s expected to get worse.

“We have a workforce that’s slowly stopping to work in agriculture, and there’s no new recruits,” Alonzo said.

Green crops could provide a salad of salvation.

About 65 growers dominate the mushroom industry in Chester County. The overwhelming majority of growers are family-owned. Several operations are vertically integrated; they make their own compost and package the crop for retail sales. Alonzo’s company, Pietro Industries, partners with a compost company and operates within the Country Fresh cooperative with seven other growers. Sysco, Costco and Pizza Hut are major clients.

Alonzo’s grandfather, Peter “Pietro” Alonzo Sr., began mushroom farming during the Great Depression. Through the 1930s, about 500 mushroom houses were built within 10 miles of Kennett Square.

That venerable industry now is looking to grow.

Alonzo said he had looked into applying for a permit to grow medical marijuana but decided against it because of the huge amount of capital — the third generation mushroom farmer said he would need $15 million — required to get into the cannabis game. In addition, marijuana came with too many regulatory and legal hurdles.

“It wasn’t a good match,” he said. “It’s very complicated and needed a ton of capital.”

But marijuana and mushrooms aren’t the only cash crops cultivated in climate-controlled rooms. The U.S. is undergoing a boom in indoor agriculture.

“And we are without a doubt already the largest concentration of indoor agriculture in the world,” said Michael Guttman, director of sustainable development office for Kennett Township.

“The only reason we haven’t previously diversified is that it was not economical to compete with field crops for greens. We’re looking at that market now.”

Innovations in LED lighting, environmental controls, and automation now make indoor farming a reasonable alternative to outdoor cultivation for many crops. Growers can produce more product with fewer resources and in less space. “Another crop [of greens] in a same-size building would require a third of the amount of staff,” Alonzo said.

Farming under lights and in greenhouses generated $14.8 billion nationwide in 2016, according to Agrilyst. (That figure doesn’t include the exploding legal cannabis market.) An expanded indoor farming industry in Chester County could include producers of any number of salad vegetables, herbs, tomatoes, and berries.

It could additionally create a new market for the spent loam used to grow the mushrooms. “We can’t grow mushrooms a second time in it. The necessary nutrients are all used up, so it usually goes out for potting soil,” Alonzo said. “But maybe we could use it for another crop.”

Chester County also has an established distribution network, “the cold chain,” and the know-how to attract new companies, Alonzo said. Able to deliver mushrooms and other refrigerated goods anywhere in the continental U.S. in less than 48 hours, the network also supplies an array of imported products from clementines to kiwis.

“Lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes travel through the same routes,” Alonzo said. “There’d be good harmony there. We know how to grow crops indoors and we know how to market it.”

Many green crops can be grown robotically.

Mushrooms in the U.S. need to be harvested with care. “Right now, it’s all harvested by hand,” said Robert Beelmanm director of Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health. who has made several trips to the Netherlands to examine automated farming.

“In the Dutch system, they have developed a mechanical harvesting system for mushrooms. Initially they were beat up, and they could only be used for processing. But I saw them being harvested last year and I was amazed.”

Along with new vertical indoor farms, Alonzo and Guttman envision a national Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture that would operate near, and possibly in concert with, the nearby Longwood Gardens. The synergy could create the indoor ag equivalent of Silicon Valley, with Southeastern Pennsylvania becoming a worldwide hub of research, training, and advocacy for the trade.

“Like any economic development project, it’s a longer-term play,” Guttman said. “But we’ve been talking to people for over a year.”

On an overcast day last week, Alonzo monitored the amount of carbon dioxide being fed into one of his grow rooms.

Computers control the temperature, humidity and CO² levels in each space. The beds are set for a cozy 74 degrees. A new crop is harvested every 56 days.

His father and grandfather once checked each grow room every four hours throughout the day. Though technology could pilot most of the growing cycle, Alonzo said there’s “no substitute for being in the room.”

“The data gives a basic road map, but the devil is in the details,” Alonzo said. “The colors have to look right, the room has to smell right. You can only know that through your senses.”

As the industry waits for a feasibility study to be delivered in about three months, it is preparing to goose sales by marketing mushrooms as a health food.

According to Penn State’s Beelman, there’s preliminary evidence that eating 100 grams of mushrooms a day might stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “We haven’t proved cause and effect, but maybe there’s something to this,” Beelman said. “I’m trying to get a collaborator and funding to do a double-blind randomized clinical human study.”

Mushrooms in Kennett Square were first cultivated more than a century ago by a Quaker carnation grower. Despite the market pressures, no one expects the fungi farms to disappear.

“We’re in the infancy of this discussion,” Alonzo said. “But we have 120 years of experience in indoor farming here. I don’t envision replacing mushrooms, but new crops could grow new profits.”  Source

Jan 4, 2018
As Trump attacks Bannon, women Democrats in Philly suburbs take office after delicious revenge wins against the GOP | Maria Panaritis

I won’t lie. This was fun.

As President Trump went to war with his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, on Wednesday, I watched from a cushioned seat at West Chester University as four women exacted their own version of revenge on the commander-in-chief and the party that has refused to rein him in.

We were gathered inside the ballroom of Sykes Student Union as this fearsome foursome — accomplished professionals with minimal to zero political establishment credentials — were sworn in to Chester County row-office posts not held by a Democrat since before the Civil War.

Two of these barrier-breaking history makers were former Republican women who thought that their party had abandoned them over the last decade as it became a hard-right refuge of reactionary rhetoric.

All now were Democrats. And all had decided last year to fight back against Trumpism by doing more than whining. They would fight back by running for office — and they won with such a high turnout behind them that Republicans across the region still are wondering what hit them.

Some people hooted and hollered as these women, one by one, put their hands on a Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. It was a powerful display of voter satisfaction fueled by rage. Which, in this age of I-rant-on-Facebook-and-call-that-public-service, amounts to something potent.

It was great to see this engagement level from women who, frankly, have the income and means to be comfortably inert about politics. One is a physician; two are financial professionals; the fourth was the founder of her own company with offices in 20 states.

Just like the blue-collar Trumpies who sent the real estate heir into the White House in 2016, women like this are now armed with their own fury against a president who once boasted of sexually assaulting women.

To see them win in a place like Chester County made it more remarkable, given that Republicans still have the voter registration edge there. This is the richest county in Pennsylvania — a place where not too long ago, Republicans loved voting for anyone who would, first and foremost, protect their money.

Because of them — and the moms who in November lugged kids to polling places to vote for the first time in local elections — the GOP halls of power in West Chester must now make room for an unwelcome infantry of Democrats, on whom the party hopes to build an even more enduring power infrastructure: Margaret Reif, controller; Yolanda Van de Krol, clerk of courts; Christine VandePol, coroner; and Patricia Maisano, treasurer.  Read more

Jan 3, 2018
Daily Local
Women rule the day at Chesco row office swearing- in ceremony

From left, Chester County Commissioners Michele Kichline and Kathi Cozzone, with Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh join the newly elected row officers: Treasurer Patricia Maisano, Controller Margaret Reif, Clerk of Courts Yolanda Van de Krol and Coroner Dr. Christina VanePol, following their swearing-in ceremonies held at West Chester University Sykes ballroom Wednesday.
From left, Chester County Commissioners Michele Kichline and Kathi Cozzone, with Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh join the newly elected row officers: Treasurer Patricia Maisano, Controller Margaret Reif, Clerk of Courts Yolanda Van de Krol and Coroner Dr. Christina VanePol, following their swearing-in ceremonies held at West Chester University Sykes ballroom Wednesday. PETE BANNAN – DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA

Newly elected Chester County Controller Margaret Reif gives newly elected Coroner Dr. Christina VanePol a hug, following their swearing-in ceremonies held at West Chester University Sykes ballroom Wednesday.Newly elected Chester County Controller Margaret Reif gives newly elected Coroner Dr. Christina VanePol a hug, following their swearing-in ceremonies held at West Chester University Sykes ballroom Wednesday.


It was a different kind of “#MeToo” moment on display Wednesday as four women, all Democrats, were sworn in as new Chester County row officers at ceremonies held at West Chester University and witnessed by a packed hall of well wishers, other elected officials, and county staff.

The presence of female officials on the stage did not pass notice by county commissioners’ Chairwoman Michelle Kichline, who shared officiating duties with commissioners’ Vice Chairwoman Kathi Cozzone as county President Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody administered several of the oaths of office.

“Chester County government, unlike our state and federal governments, has a long history of electing women to leadership positions,” said Kichline, the Republican who announced earlier that her fellow commissioners, Democrat Cozzone included, had agreed to keep her in place as head of the three-member board for another year.

“In fact, one could argue that having so many women at the helm has strongly contributed to our position as the healthiest, the wealthiest, and the best educated county in the state,” Kichline said, offering parenthetical apologies to Commissioner Terence Farrell, seated a few feet away and smiling at the joke.   Read more


Dec 31, 2017
Daily Local News
New Chester County Controller Margaret Reif: ‘I am up to the challenge’

WEST CHESTER >> If you were sitting across a poker table from Margaret Reif, the woman who will today become Chester County’s first Democratic controller, you might be prone to describe her style of play as keeping her cards close to her vest.In an interview last month ahead of her historic installation as the county’s fiscal watchdog, the first from an opposition party and thus the lack of any formal or informal ties to the traditional Republican majority, Reif said she fully intends to live up to the promise she made to voters who propelled her to office in November.But she declined to state specifically what steps she might take to investigate or root out any fiscal irregularities she believes are present in county government.“We need a big change in the county,” Reif said in the 30-minute telephone interview. “There are finally checks and balances in the county, and I take that very seriously. I feel it is important to prove everyone right in the trust they placed in us, in giving us their confidence.”  Read more  

Inside Story recaps N.J. and PA election results

VIDEO: Inside Story Part 1 of ’17 Election results

View all 3 videoshere

Terry Madonna
Val DiGeorgio
Jim Eisenhower

Breaking down the local elections

VIDEO: Inside Story Part 2 of '17 Election results

Dec 21, 2018
Chester County Invest Pension Funds in Local Venture CapitolPhillydeals-21122017-0001

Chester County’s retirement board on Dec. 21, 2017 said it voted to invest $2 million in a local venture capital fund that would focus on Chester County businesses. They established Venture Chesco, in partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which will add $2 million and pick companies to back. Seated left to right: Chester County Commissioner Terence Farrell; Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline; Chester County Treasurer Ann Duke. Standing, left to right: Chester County Controller Norman MacQueen and Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone.

Chester County’s retirement board on Dec. 21, 2017 said it voted to invest $2 million in a local venture capital fund that would focus on Chester County businesses. They established Venture Chesco, in partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which will add $2 million and pick companies to back.

The Chester County Retirement Board has agreed to invest $2 million in county retirement money in a new venture capital partnership, Venture Chesco, which will put the dollars in “emerging and growing” firms located in the state’s wealthiest county, or willing to move there.

The money will be matched by another $2 million from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, an early-stage tech-company funding group that has been working to broaden its funding base to reduce its dependence on state subsidies. Ben Franklin will manage Venture Chesco, and seek new firms to encourage the “growing innovation culture” in the county, Ben Franklin president RoseAnn Rosenthal said in a statement.

Chester County can afford the investment because its retirement fund is relatively solvent, the economy is growing, and a similar Venture Capital for Bucks County fund (VC4BC) serves as a model, Michelle Kichline, the elected Chester County Commissioners’ chair and a retirement board member, told me.

“The competition to attract these young companies has become so intense” that Chester County has been planning since 2015 to set up a venture fund, as part of its Vista 2025 economic development plan, Kichline added. “We think the [retirement] fund is in a solid place. We’re still the fastest-growing county in the commonwealth. This is going to be one more tool to attract young companies down here.”

The Bucks County venture fund also includes $2 million in county pension money and $2 million from Ben Franklin, said Bucks Commissioner Robert Loughery. He said the fund is designed to back companies emerging from local incubators such as the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County, in Buckingham Township. Early VC4BC investments include a position in OrthogenRX, a Doylestown firm developing a device for treating arthritis. “After three years, we are just starting to get back our money,” he added. Bucks expects an initial payment sometime in 2018.

Chester County attracts entrepreneurs, and offers “incubator” locations and technical assistance, but finding investors is “a real challenge,” a fellow commissioner and retirement board member, Kathi Cozzone, added in a statement. Another commissioner and retirement board member, Terence Farrell, said the $2 million is only “a small percentage” of the county’s pension millions, and offers “potential return on investment” while also boosting business.

The retirement plan managed $386 million, and faced liabilities totalling $437 million at the end of last year, according to fiduciary data on the plan published in the county’s most recent annual financial report (see p. 80).

Chester County assumes its overall pension investments will return 7.5 percent a year over time, net of fees and expenses; it expects a relatively modest 5.5 percent from the category including venture capital and other private investments. Ben Franklin says “they will probably be consistent with that,” Kichline told me. Given the strong economy, “we don’t think this is a strong risk.”

Ben Franklin officials weren’t immediately available for comment on their past returns.

Chester County’s pension liabilities trailed its pension assets by $51 million, or 12 percent, compared with a gap of more than 50 percent for the pension system in Philadelphia, where retirees outnumber police and other workers who pay a portion of their wages into the fund. In Chester County there are more than four working employees for every retiree. Unlike city and township plans, county pension plan data in Pennsylvania are not audited by the state auditor general.

Chester County’s reported pension funding ratio is also stronger than the audited state workers’ (SERS) and state teachers’ (PSERS) pension funds.

When they were more solvent in the 1980s, SERS and PSERS tried to set up their own local investment and venture capital funds to spur area job growth. Among other investments, they committed $60 million to a Norristown soft-drink company that went bankrupt, causing the loss of the pension funds’ investments. SERS and PSERS now hire professional venture investors who buy early-stage companies in Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and other venture capital hotbeds, as well as some in Pennsylvania.

Chester County is triple-A rated by Moody’s Investors Service and other major credit-rating agencies, a sign Wall Street is confident the county can pay its pensions well into the future. Source


Nov 21, 2017
Chester County Press
Uncle Irvin: D’s ‘Trump’ R’s

For the first time in more than two centuries, the Democratic Party of Chester County has elected four of their own to county row offices, including County Treasurer and Controller.
In some ways, this is not as surprising as it seems. Population increases and a change of new voters has already given Democrats a big boost in party registration over the past 20 years. The two parties are now virtually the same. Democrats have already carried the county in the Presidential and Senatorial elections, but have failed in county races quite miserably.
Now, with a little help from the widespread discontent over President Trump and the reckless and failed leadership of the last two GOP County Chairmen, Skip Brion and Val DiGiorgio, the GOP County Committee has virtually collapsed.
A couple of things we can look for:
1.    Next year’s General Assembly races and the fate of GOP incumbents John Lawrence and Eric Roe, and Republican Congressmen Ryan Costello and Pat Meehan.
2.    The mass firing of GOP employees of the four row offices in January and the hiring of Democrat replacements in the tradition of “To the victors belong the spoils.”
3.    The 2019 county races for County Commissioner, District Attorney and Sheriff.

The security blanket that went with Republican endorsement has been shredded, giving a breath of fresh air that could mean better local government for Chester County.

(This is part of an occasional column written by Uncle Irvin. As always, the column is the opinion of Uncle Irvin, and is not a news story.)  Source

Nov 11, 2017
Tuesday’s election results were not all about Trump

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Not to mince words, but Tuesday was a bit of a stunner.

With the county’s Democrats sweeping the county row office races and making pickups in virtually every category from township supervisor to District Justice, it is clear that Chester County is no longer a one-party county.

And yes, to be sure, it was a bit of a referendum on President Donald Trump, as we saw in neighboring states and counties. But don’t assume that’s all it was, because you’d be missing a lot of the story.

Is it shocking that Democrats in Delaware County broke through, won row seats and two County Council seats? Nope. The Delaware County Republican Party has been akin to an old, rotted pier waiting quietly for the right storm to come in and completely tear it down. Democrats already had an edge in voter registration and have been making inroads for more than a decade, winning legislative seats and even a Congressional seat.

Truth be told, many us around politics have felt that the Delco GOP would just collapse one day and cease to be relevant — that day was Tuesday. Once voters see that the world won’t end — and their trash still gets picked up — Democrats will keep winning with regularity and likely become the permanent controlling party there.

The Chesco GOP is a whole different story. This has been, until we started to see some cracks at the seams in 2016, a smoothly operating machine. It always seemed likely that the Chesco Democrats would have to gain a foothold, maybe by winning one row office seat, and then slowly work to get to parity over the space of a number of election cycles.

Tuesday changed all of that.

I think two major issues took what should have been a gradual process and turned it into a sudden one.

First, like it or not, the Chester County Democratic Party has its stuff together.

Really has it’s stuff together.

Under Chair Brian McGinnis fundraising is way up, the party has filled many of its empty committee person slots and built up new — and effective — Get Out The Vote and candidate marketing efforts.

2017 was a testbed for a lot of what the county Democrats expect to use in 2018. Obviously, much of what they tried worked well, boosting turnout and participation to record levels on Democratic side. While every party has its internal tensions, Trump has served as a great unifier for the local party organization and McGinnis’ efforts over the last few years are paying dividends.

The Democrats were confident that they would win — even though pundits, including myself — thought it would still be tough sledding. Personally, I figured that Patricia Maisano was the party’s best bet to win a Row Office, running against Jack London (a head scratcher of a pick, to be honest) for Treasurer. She had a lot of Republican support in the southern part of the county, raised a lot of money and was one of the strongest candidates the Democrats had put forward in years. I did think — and wrote in this space earlier this year — that the entire slate was really strong, really impressive and would show well.

But a sweep? I didn’t think it was possible — the numbers in terms of registered voters, still solidly in favor of the GOP, made the math tough. Apparently, though, the new math has a lot of those registered Republicans voting for Democrats, at least in this cycle.

So not only was it possible to win, but Democrats won some of these races by nine points — and the closest was five. The ripple effect was enormous around the county, impacting municipal and school board elections.

Yes, the Democrats are going to have to show they can repeat it, not to mention handling governance — but consider this: winning means more money from donors (especially as traditional GOP donors start to hedge their bets) and better candidates (who also tend to raise more money). Not only will party leaders no longer have to arm twist to get candidates to run in some legislative races, we’re already seeing multiple candidates line up in some districts, a number of whom would appear to be formidable candidates.

One other benefit: while typically Democratic enthusiasm for an incumbent governor — such as Gov. Tom Wolf — might be tempered, the state’s Republicans might be poised to do them a big favor by nominating state Sen. Scott Wagner, who is kind of the Trump of York County.

Wagner is all in with Trump and even has the official blessing of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. By essentially tagging Wagner as the Trump of Pennsylvania — undoubtedly the President will come to tout him in campaign season, deepening the link in voters’ minds — Democrats will be able to boost their turnout in the collar counties, including Chester County and depress turnout of old-school moderate Republicans.

So…it’s clear the Democrats should have the wind at their backs in 2018.

But it’s not just that reason that 2018 looks like a wave in Chester County.

The Chester County Republican Committee has issues.

Although the party chair — and also the state GOP chair — Val DiGiorgio attempted Wednesday to spin the loss as being from external factors (read, Donald J. Trump), the numbers tell a different story.

Republicans under performed the region — yes, Democrats won in places such as Delaware County (where, by the way, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans), but the margins were tighter and in line with trends that have been building in the county for years.

So while it might be easy to blame the Trump factor, there was more to the story or Republicans wouldn’t have seen row offices lose by nine points or lose Township Supervisor races in places such as East Marlborough.

Internally, the party is divided — an issue many local Republican parties are struggling with — as Tea Party/Trumpers battle the old-school and more moderate establishment members of the party. But there seems to be a leadership vacuum at the top of the party. When DiGiorgio won the state chairmanship, he took the entire Chesco GOP staff with him — but didn’t step aside locally to allow new blood to grow into their new roles.

In five years, we’ve seen a party that ran like clockwork and over performed — Mitt Romney’s 2012 win in the county over President Barack Obama was a testament to excellence in a county party — and become a dysfunctional, disorganized group that now is just not getting the job done.

To be sure, it is not all the fault of DiGiorgio, a gifted, if overly bombastic political operator. The slow process of weeding out the old-school GOP committee members, the capable, moderate and experienced ones who got things done, and replacing them with erratic true believers has taken its toll.

But mix that with DiGiorgio being locked in on statewide races — managing to win the state Supreme Court race and get the ballot property tax initiative passed show he was laser focused on the statewide races — no one seemed to be home, locally.

As I write this, it’s clear that a number of state house seats are going to be in peril — and that’s assuming we don’t see retirements from some of the long-standing members and I think we will. Peril is the best case scenario, assuming the county GOP rights the ship and gets new, local leadership. Losing four or five is probably the worst case scenario and looking more likely by the day.

Meet the new tax bill, same as the old tax bill.

I read through the U.S. Senate version of the tax bill and it is a little less awful than the one in the house in terms of my personal finance. In the Senate plan, we get the medical expense exemption back — that was more than $30,000 for us in 2016 — but lose the property tax exemption.

As small business owners, we own two properties, one residential, one commercial. We pay property taxes to two townships, Pocopson (which also has an Earned Income Tax) and Valley, two school districts (Unionville-Chadds Ford and Coatesville Area School District) and pay twice to good old Chester County.

Under either plan, based on our 2016 taxes, we will see a net tax increase, albeit larger under the House plan. I suspect those of you who are in the entrepreneurial class and have kids will experience similar numbers.

A number of Republicans — including U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R-7) — seem to be arguing that anyone claiming such a terrible thing is merely using Democratic talking points. I’m just using numbers — numbers that should shake out similarly for a lot of Meehan’s Chadds Ford neighbors.

Both versions of the bill appear to shift tax burden from the wealthiest to middle and upper middle class families. In my case, I’ve done the math with real-life numbers, it’s not a talking point, it’s reality. But, hey don’t believe me. Pull out your 2016 returns and see how the numbers fall for you before passing judgment. If you’ve been relatively healthy and have employer-based health insurance, the house plan might work better for you.

As I noted previously, there are a lot of folks in Chester County who won’t get a tax cut and may see a tax increase from this plan. With 2018 Congressional elections already looking shaky, this may well be the final deal breaker for a lot of voters, many of whom usually vote Republican.

The Roy Moore story is a giant headache for Republicans — the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama is alleged to have had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor female in 1979, according to a story in The Washington Post. Moore categorically denied the allegations.

Prior to Thursday’s allegations, Moore was a trainwreck — albeit one favored to win in Alabama — with claims he diverted money from a charity to his personal use and having been removed from the bench twice for ignoring the rulings of higher courts, plus his propensity for bigotry when it comes to gays and lesbians.

You’d think this story would be enough, but it doesn’t appear to be.

As concerning as the story is — and it is another carefully crafted, highly detailed, exceptionally reported story from The Washington Post — two things stand out for me.

First, this story from The Toronto Star suggests at least three Alabama GOP county chairs would still support Moore if the allegations are true. When partisan politics entirely overwhelms morality we have a serious problem.

Second, Moore’s denial of The Post’s story reads almost exactly word for word like the denial by other Republicans in Congress of late when confronted by a deeply reported, meticulous story that puts them in a negative light in The Post.

To further claim that The Post or other media entities are collaborating with the Democratic National Committee — hilarious on the surface of it, but kind of sad when one sees the level of critical reporting on that body and other party organizations, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (which, by the way, I have essentially used as a piñata in this column for the epically poor way it ruins — I mean runs — local Congressional campaigns).

It’s almost reached a point that any reporting that is not fawning over certain elected officials is labelled “fake news.”

It’s deeply insulting to those of us who do this for a living and an exceptionally poor tactical decision because it just makes the media work even harder to get their story.

And not for nothing, how crass is it to send out fund raising emails on the Alabama story as Moore has done?

One more migraine-sized headache for our three local Congressman: you know those slightly gerrymandered districts they get to run in? The state’s Supreme Court said this week, essentially, “not so fast.”

The state Supreme Court ruled this week that the Commonwealth Court must hear a case challenging the current districts and rule before Dec. 31 — allowing a redrawing of the Congressional district lines before the 2018 elections, should the courts (and appeals, which will likely run all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court) find that the districts are illegal.

The centerpiece of the suit is the now legendary 7th District (the district that I currently happen to be disenfranchised in) — considered by many to be the most gerrymandered district in the entire U.S.

At least of two our local Congressmen — Meehan and U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello may be in serious trouble in the current districts, based on what we saw Tuesday.

Putting them in fairer districts might be too much for either to overcome. Source

Nov 8, 2017
Unionville Times
SHOCKER: Democrats sweep row offices, win up and down ballot

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Democrats (from left) Patricia Maisano for County Treasurer, Christina VandePol, Coroner, Margaret Reif, Controller and Yolanda Van de Krol , Clerk of Courts, swept to historic wins, Tuesday. Photo courtesy Chester County Democratic Committee.
Chester County’s Democrats won a stunning victory Tuesday, sweeping all four county row office races, meaning Democrats will hold those seats for the first time since before the Civil War. Additionally, Democrats swept to victory in a number of hotly contested District Justice races and held onto a number of key mayoral seats.

An energized voter turnout — 31.7%, a high number for an off-year, municipal election, appeared to fuel the Democratic surge to victory. A number of polling places reported vote totals higher than the entire 2013 turnout — the last time the same offices were up for election — by midday.

While it appears some external factors — such as voters’ displeasure with President Donald Trump — played a factor, Democrats were able to recruit its strongest slate of candidates in recent years, put together a true Get Out The Vote effort and were able to mobilize voters via traditional and social media.

Although Chester County Democratic Chair Brian McGinnis said he was always confident of a sweep, the margin of the win even surprised him a bit.

“I kept telling people that we were going to sweep and people didn’t believe me,” he said.

He said the combination of outstanding candidates, a great message and a united and organized party made the difference in the end.

“Now the hard part is coming,” he said. “Now, we have to govern and keep our promises to the people of Chester County for transparency and honesty.”

While Democrats celebrated the historic victory, which led to wins up and down the ballot, the county’s GOP seemed to be laying the blame at the feet of President Trump’s low approval ratings without calling him out by name.

“We are disappointed in the results of Tuesday’s election,” Chester County Republican Chair Val DiGiorgio said in a statement. “There was clearly a Democrat wave in all four of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s suburban counties, and our losses in Chester County had little to do with how county and local governments are governed. It is unfortunate that some of our outstanding Republican officials lost due to things that had nothing to do with local politics.

“The Chester County GOP is as committed as ever to preserving a high quality of life for our residents, as we have done for over 150 years. We welcome to the table those Democrats who were successful yesterday, and will work with them to the extent that they want to keep Chester County such a great place to live.”

Democrat Patricia Maisano cruised past Republican Jack London, 53.6% to 46.32% in the only open seat, for County Treasurer.

But maybe more stunning was how Democrats defeated three incumbent Republican row office holders. Margaret Reif knocked off incumbent Norman MacQueen for Controller by a 54.5% to 45.5% margin. Yolanda Van de Krol defeated Robin Marcello 52.7% to 47.1% for Clerk of Courts. Christina VandePol outpaced incumbent Coroner Gordon 54% to 45.8%.

Democrats won a couple of high profile District Justice races, as well. Democrat Bret Binder defeated incumbent Mark Bruno in the West Chester area seat, while Democrat Al Iacocca won a hotly contested open seat over Jane Donze in the Unionville/Kennett area.

Democrats also saw upset wins in a handful of school board elections. In Great Valley, incumbent Republican Carol Palmaccio was upended by Democrat Bryan Paluch and in Kennett, Democrat Paola Rosas defeated Kendra Lacosta, as Vicki Gehrt knocked off incumbent Republican Heather Schaen. In West Chester, Chuck Linn edged Randell Spackman for a Region 3 seat.

In high profile mayoral races, Democrat Josh Maxwell won reelection easily in Downingtown, defeating Republican Adrian Martinez; in west Chester Democrat Diane Herrin cruised past Republican Tommy Ciccarone and in Phoenixville, Democrat Peter Urscheler outpaced Republican Dave Gatreau. Also, Democrat Lorraine Durnan Bell defeated Pam Benjamin in the Oxford Mayoral race. John P Hagan II, a Democrat, won over Republican Mel Keen for Parkesburg Mayor. James Burns defeated Republican Michael Weiss for Mayor of Spring City.

Although a good night overall for Democrats statewide — neighboring Delaware County saw similar county-level gains, including a historic sweep of row offices and two wins for County Council — Republicans carried the day at the top of the ticket, with Sallie Mundy defeating Dwayne Woodruff for an open Supreme Court seat. Democrats fared better on lower judicial races, with Maria McLaughlin, Carolyn Nichols, Deborah Kunselman winning three of four Superior Court seats. Republican Mary Murray won the fourth seat.

There were a handful of shockers on the municipal level as well. In West Goshen, long a Republican stronghold, Democrats Mary Lasota and Robin Stuntebeck defeated Republicans Raymond Halverson and Theodore Murphy. In East Goshen, Democrat David Shuey was the top vote getter, with Republican Mike Lynch taking the second of two contested seats. In staunchly Republican East Marlborough, Julia McGovern Lacy and Robert McKinstry, Democrats, defeated Tom Simpers and long-time incumbent Eddie Caudill.

Elsewhere, in Caln, incumbents Josh Young, Lorraine Tindaro, Democrats, and John Contento, a Republican, all won reelection as Commissioner. Democrats Murphy Wysocki and Mathew Holt defeated Republicans Robin Bond and Raffi Terzian for supervisor in Tredyffrin. Democrat Karen Nocella held off Howard Sacks for supervisor in East Coventry. In East Nottingham, Democrat Samuel Goodley Jr. won one of two supervisor seats — with Michael Watson, running on both lines, winning the other.

In Franklin, Nancy Moshel Morris, a Democrat, defeated Penelope Schenk, for supervisor. In London Britain, Democrat Alieen Hoag Parrish cruised past Republican Russell McKinnon for supervisor.

In the statewide Commonwealth Court race, the parties split, with Ellen Ceisler, a Democrat, and Christine Fizzano Cannon, a Republican, winning one seat each. In West Marlborough, Democrat Jacob Chalfin won unopposed for supervisor. In Uwchlan, Democrat Bill Miller defeated Joe Toner for supervisor. In West Vincent, Democrat Bernie Couris held off Republican George Dulchinos for supervisor.

In Kennett Square, a borough increasingly trending Democratic, La Toya Myers, Brenda Mecomes, Ethan Cramer and Peter Waterkotte all cruised to Borough Council wins, defeating Republicans Dan Maffei, Gregory Deveney, Mathew McGill and Lori Caldwell.

The New Garden library referendum — to fund the Kennett Library with a dedicated tax — passed 1,014 to 651. West Bradford’s Open Space referendum also passed, 1,800 to 888.

The proposed state Constitutional amendment on taxation for school use — which lost in Chester County – won statewide by a 53.9% to 46% margin. The state legislature still would have to pass legislation to change the percentage of exemption, however. Read more

Nov 7, 2017
Voters give nods in MDJ races

Voters in Chester County were given choices of who should serve as their magisterial district judge in four different district courts in Tuesday’s general election. Early returns showed a victory for Democrats in two hotly contested races, including a prime showdown in West Chester.

Democratic attorney Bret Binder was leading incumbent Mark Bruno in the West Chester-centered seat, while his fellow party member and attorney Al Iacocca led GOP attorney Jane Donze in the Kennett Square race.

In Pennsylvania, magisterial district judges handle small claims, landlord tenant cases, traffic and non-traffic citations, and rule on preliminary hearings for those charged with felonies and misdemeanors. The position has a yearly salary of $89,438.

All election results are unofficial until certified by the county board of elections.

In West Chester, one of the busiest courts in the county and located in the county seat, Bruno was seeking re-election to the position he has held for three consecutive terms, but faced a strong challenge from Binder, a former West Chester Area School Board member.

Bruno had pointed to his three terms on the bench and proven record of dispensing justice in the court as reason why he should have been returned to office, while Binder proclaimed that he would begin fresh initiatives in the court that would reach out to workers, students and veterans.

With a majority of the vote tallied at 11 p.m., Binder led Bruno by 2,872 votes to 2,626, while Iacocca led Donze by 3,753 to 2,555.

Up north, in the court that is centered in North Coventry, police officer John Hipple, running as a Republican, appeared to have defeated West Vincent resident Keith Eldridge for the seat left vacant by the retirement of James DeAngelo.

Results showed Hipple ahead by 3,019 votes to Eldridge’s 2,900.

Finally, incumbent Magisterial District Judge Scott Massey, who had won both the Democratic and Republican primaries, beat back a challenge from Independent candidate Stephen Sheppleman, with early results showing a margin of 74 percent to 24 percent.

The race between Bruno and Binder was among those heavily watched. Bruno cited a long record of service, while Binder, a relative newcomer to judicial elections, said he hoped to add new programs to the court.

In West Chester, Bruno stressed his experience.

“I enjoy this job,” said Bruno, who first took office in 1998. ”I enjoy working with the people in court, promoting community service, and teaching kids how to make the right choice in life. Plus, I’ve heard more cases than any other district judge sitting on the bench, and so my experience is second to none.”

Binder said he was promoting his candidacy as a way of bringing a fresh perspective to how to deal with people who find themselves in court. “If 18 years, it is time for some new ideas,” as well as the expertise an attorney brings to the bench.

West Chester’s District Court 15-1-01 covers the western half of West Chester, as well as the townships of East Bradford and West Bradford. It has among the highest number of cases — criminal, civil and traffic — in Chester County, and among the highest in the state. Both men were running for a full six-year term

The Kennet Square court position pitted two attorneys against one another. The court serves Birmingham, Pennsbury, Pocopson, Newlin, Kennett and East Marlborough Townships and Kennett Square Borough.

Donze, a resident of the area for 23 years, has owned a law firm in the Willowdale Town Center in East Marlborough for the past 19 years, and for the last 17 years, with her husband and law partner, George Donze.

“Being our district judge goes beyond simply knowing and applying the law,” Donze said in a campaign interview. “Our judge needs to be fair, ethical and know our community. Most importantly, I am proud to call myself part of our community. I have lived here for decades, raised my children here, and volunteered my time to local civic groups and charities; I understand the concerns of our seniors and families.”

According to the candidate, for most of his life, Al Iacocca has given back to the community. He’s volunteered on scores of civic and nonprofit organizations, and now he’s looking to extend his role in public service by seeking to become the area’s next district justice.

“I like the ‘Service Above Self’ motto of Rotary,” said Iacocca, an active member of the Longwood Rotary Club. “That’s what my life is about. I think I’m tough, but compassionate. Sometimes we need to let people recover and rebuild. There’s a certain level of resolve. The critical thing is if a crime occurs, we need to make sure it does not happen again.”

Hipple is a North Coventry police officer who took on Eldridge, a business owner. District Court 15-3-01, located in South Coventry, covers Spring City, North Coventry, South Coventry, East Pikeland, East Coventry, Warwick, East Nantmeal, East Vincent and West Vincent.

Eldridge, 36, of West Vincent, graduated from Owen J. Roberts High School in 1999. He later opened his own construction company in 2006 that he has since continued to successfully run in addition to serving on the West Vincent Zoning Hearing Board.

“A lot of my interest, before running and while I continue to, are things that need to be handled in the Legislature, like bail reform,” he said. “I read too many things about how bail is almost used as a punishment for people who can’t afford it.”

Hipple, 47, of North Coventry, cited his experience in law enforcement as a qualification for office. A lifelong resident of Chester County, he graduated from Owen J. Roberts High School and in 2004 began working as a police officer.

“I know what the community is looking for in terms of value and integrity and I believe I have those values,” he said. “I’m going to uphold the law and make the decisions based on the information that’s presented to me. I’m looking for the support of the community.” Read more

Nov 7, 2017
Chesco Dems poised for ‘blowout’ win in row office elections

Early returns Tuesday showed a possible stunning victory for Democrats in Chester County races for four row office positions, reversing a decades-long trend of Republican domination in countywide elections.

As of late Tuesday night, each of the party’s candidates for the administrative seats in the courthouse were leading by significant margins in key precincts, or at worst neck and neck with their GOP counterparts, including incumbent office holders, putting them in hopes of sweeping the table in a reaction to an apparent distaste for the presidency of Donald Trump.

The returns were overwhelming in Democratic precincts in areas such as West Chester — where the margin of victory was sometimes more than three to one. But more tellingly the challengers were ahead in rock-hard Republican bastions such as East Pikeland, West Marlborough, and East Goshen, where Democrats had traditionally been hard pressed to compete. In those precincts, each of the four row office candidates – all of whom are women – were leading by sometimes double digits.

In one West Chester precinct, the GOP candidates did not reach even 10 votes, while their Democratic opponents neared triple figures.

“It might be a Democratic blowout,” said one county elected official.

With 167 of 228 precincts counted as of 11 p.m., about 73 percent of the county total, Democrat Margaret Reif led county Controller Norman MacQueen by 39,837votes to 32,261; Yolanda Van De Krol led Clerk of Courts Robin Marcello by 39,072 to 33,741 votes; and Dr. Christina VandePol led Coroner Dr. Gordon Eck by 39,867 to 32,976. Democrat Patricia Maisano led Republican Jack London by 39,734 to 33,264 in the race for county treasurer.

All vote totals are unofficial until certified by the county board of elections.

Since its incorporation in the 1700s, the county has never elected a Democrat to one of the nine row office positions, and currently the only countywide official from the party is a minority commissioner post mandated by law.

This year, the Democratic Party had hoped to change that, motivated by a surge in interest and participation after the election of President Trump. But the county’s Republican Party declined to surrender its 150-year-old traditional power in the courthouse quietly, citing the continued fiscal conservativism it claims has led to a list of achievements in the quality of life for the county’s 515,000-plus residents.

Democrats had urged voters to reject the “one party” rule that they said was unfair in this growing county, while Republicans pointed to the outstanding financial position the county is in, which they said would be threatened with a change in leadership.

County positions open this year were those elected posts that handle courthouse and county administrative functions, including controller, clerk of courts, coroner, and treasurer. The county controller for is responsible for overseeing the county’s financial dealings, clerk of courts for handling criminal court filings, the coroner for dealing with deaths in the county, and the treasurer for collecting county and some local taxes.

Running as teams, the two sides expressed different themes to attract voters: Democrats argued that they would provide a check on GOP dominance, while Republicans cited their overall experience in governing. At the top of the ticket is the controller’s office, which acts as a fiscal watchdog on the county and thus has enormous influence over financial operations in the courthouse.

“It is sort of like the fox watching the hen house,” said Reif of seeing a Republican in the county controller’s office, responsible for auditing the accounts of the other county offices while maintaining party allegiances. “There always should be checks and balances. It’s critical.”

Reif, 49, of Uwchlan has a degree in economics and finance, and is controller for Youth Mentoring Project, a Malvern-based nonprofit organization. She previously worked as an investment liaison at Vanguard, and helps run a family business, Level Best Carpentry.

McQueen, 51, of Willistown, where he had served as a member of the township board of supervisors is graduate of West Chester University and Eastern University. He is an investment advisor with 25 years of experience and was a partner at Northeast Advisers.

“In the past four years, I think we’ve done some great work,” he said, pointing the publication of a “junior” version of the county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that makes the county’s fiscal position more accessible. “I do think the county is in excellent financial health,” citing a collaborative effort between departments and the commissioners’ office.

Van De Krol, 56, of Tredyffrin is a 20-year veteran of the financial services industry, including two years as vice president for Citizens Bank before her retirement this year. She served as president of the Tredyffrin Library Board, and previously ran for supervisor in that township.

“It is always good to have a financial knowledge” when seeking an office like the clerk’s, she said. “There are budgets to run and we need to spend taxpayer dollars wisely.” She said that if elected, she would seek to upgrade the office’s capabilities. “We are woefully behind technologically. We should be using our resources to get the office up to speed.”

Marcello, 51, of Franklin is a licensed insurance producer and registered securities representative. She is a founding member of the Jennersville chapter of the Business and Professional Women, and had served as a township supervisor in Penn.

She said her four years in office had been successful, and that she had established good working relationships with the courts and the county administrative offices. “We are working together to improve the interaction between departments, and find them vastly improved,” she said. If re-elected, she said she would bolster the office’s technological abilities, allowing for more outside access by attorneys and the public to records.

VandePol, 69, of West Whiteland is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and worked in medicine and research in a variety of positions. She currently teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology at Delaware Community College.

She said she would use the coroner’s office as a “bully pulpit” to discuss community concerns such as the opioid crisis. “I am a proactive person,” she said. “I can’t just see a problem and then do nothing about it. As a public servant, the coroner should be contributing medical and scientific expertise to the battle against the opioid emergency.”

Eck, 64, of West Brandywine, has been in family medical practice for 32 years after having graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his medical practice, he serves as medical director of Abraxas Academy, a juvenile detention center.

Among the achievements Eck listed as important are his work getting professional certification for his assistant and the office itself, and his work with those whose lives come in contact with the office. He established a policy of working with the families of the deceased and sometimes even went on visits to their home. “Isn’t it wonderful for a government office to be known for its compassion?” he said.

Maisano, 66, of Kennett, is the founder and chief executive officer of IKOR International, a company providing patient advocacy and professional guardianship services to the disabled and seniors.

She said her campaign was focused on “trust, transparency, and integrity. It should be about what you bring to the table, and having all people have a voice. This county has only had one voice for hundreds of years, and that’s what brought me to the table.”

London, 49, of London Grove, owns London Financial Group and previously served as a law enforcement officer with the Warminster Police Department in Bucks County. He is also an award-winning powerlifter and bodybuilder.

“Being treasurer would be a perfect fit for me,” he said, citing his 24 years of finance background. “I know it’s a money-in, money-out position, and right now the office is run very well. The county is run amazingly, and we need people who will run for the right reason: not a paycheck, a chance to serve.”

The signs of a possible breakthrough by Democrats were visible in the days before the election. The party has cut into the GOP’s voter registration edge, signing up 1,269 new voters to its rolls since the May primary. There have been newly organized voter turnout groups, and a presence on social media making the case for Democratic votes.

The county, indeed, has seen voters willing to cast their ballots for Democrats in recent years, with former President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton winning in general elections. Clinton led Trump here by more than 9 percentage point in the 2016 presidential race, even as she lost statewide.

But Republicans, despite actually losing registered voters since May (by 413), still command the voter rolls, and have proven successful in past off-year row office races, even as national and statewide seats have gone to the Democrats.

According to Chester County Voters Services figures, there were 151,240 registered Republicans for Tuesday’s general municipal election, compared with 133,570 Democrats and 60,659 independent or minor party voters. In 2015, when five row office positions were open, the GOP candidates bested their Democratic opponents by an average of more than 17 percentage points.
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