Commissioners May Review Relationship with County’s Economic Development Corp.
CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners were questioned again during the public comment session of Tuesday’s regular meeting about the status of the leader of the county’s economic development corporation, Clearly Ahead.
At a meeting Oct. 6, the commissioners first heard concerns involving Clearly Ahead Development and an incident involving its Chief Executive Officer Rob Swales. According to a previously published GANT report, Swales was involved in an incident at the Toasted Monkey in Hyde in August, and it resulted in him being cited for harassment and disorderly conduct.
Clearfield resident Charles Lombardo asked the commissioners for an update on the status of Swales in terms of his employment by Clearly Ahead. Commissioner John A. Sobel advised that Commissioner Joan Robinson-McMillen, who was on the Clearly Ahead board of directors, was out of town but would be present at the commissioners’ next regular meeting Nov. 24.
Sobel said that he wasn’t trying to “shove” the Clearly Ahead matter onto Robinson-McMillen. However, he pointed out that she would have been present at Clearly Ahead’s board of directors meeting and better able to answer any of Lombardo’s questions.
Lombardo said he was a local union official and felt that when an employee is charged with harassment, they deserve to be fired or have time off. He said he was aware that the commissioners couldn’t take that action but wanted to see Robinson-McMillen bring it to the attention of the Clearly Ahead board of directors.
So far as his opinion, Lombardo said it appeared that nothing was going to happen to Swales. “It’s not like Joe Marino confronted him. It was the other way around,” he said. Lombardo said it was his understanding that there was a tape of the incident, and they would do “whatever” they had to in order to get it if it became necessary.
Lombardo told the commissioners if they sat and “did nothing,” it would be a big mistake to show the community. Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said he believed everyone understood that Swales was an employee of Clearly Ahead and under the oversight of its own board of directors.
When McCracken began to comment further, he was cut off by Solicitor Kim Kesner. Kesner said because the commissioners hadn’t deliberated and taken official action in a public meeting, he advised them not to make further comments on potential action to be taken regarding the county’s relationship with Clearly Ahead.
Kesner said that since he is not subject to the Sunshine Law, he would address the question from Lombardo. He said the county presently has a contractual relationship with Clearly Ahead and right now segments of the public have concerns and want to know what the commissioners will do due to the incident involving Swales.
However, Kesner said he was trying to prevent the commissioners from violating the Sunshine Law and having future action taken challenged by the other entity. He said from discussions with individual commissioners but not in a group, there may be some things considered in the future. “The best we can say right now is to stay tuned,” said Kesner.
He said so far as Swales is concerned, he is an employee of Clearly Ahead, a non-profit corporation. He said it has a board of directors, and its members can comment on what they plan to do, if anything. “If they refuse, then it’s akin to the Penn Highlands Healthcare board, where things are done secretly while wanting community and public support. You can’t have it both ways.
“…Likewise with Clearly Ahead, Commissioner Robinson-McMillen isn’t here. It will be up to her what she will reveal individually or in a public meeting. Clearly Ahead has a board and its members can be legitimately asked how they viewed this, how they assessed this and what they decided to do, if anything, and why.”
Kesner said that on the other hand, the commissioners must be very careful until they conduct a public meeting, deliberate and take official action. Lombardo then asked how he could find out when Clearly Ahead’s board of directors will meet again and if it’s open to members of the public.
Kesner said Clearly Ahead is a non-profit corporation, and the board of directors is not required to let in members of the public. However, he said anyone can be approached with questions in a non-confrontational manner.
At that point, Marino commented that it was easy to use the word “altercation” to describe the incident. “It wasn’t an altercation,” he said. “By no means did I defend myself or antagonize the situation. I just want some compassion. I handled myself the way society would have wanted me to handle myself.”
Marino alleged that the Swales incident was “staged” to get him to lose his temper. He alleged Swales wanted him to be the one under public scrutiny. Marino said all he ever did was voice his legitimate concerns over the Clearfield Riverfront Redevelopment Project, which was sought by borough officials.
Resident Fred Weaver said it was his understanding that the county had a contract and makes an allocation to Clearly Ahead. He asked if its presentation and discussion on it would be open to the public. McCracken said it was included as a part of the budget, which was still being prepared with plans for it to be presented Nov. 24.
During the solicitor’s report, Kesner suggested that the commissioners use their December work session to address any matters with Clearly Ahead since it was getting to be the end of the year. He said it was a matter of interest to those in attendance and others within the community and needed to be handled with transparency.
He said although there has been a successful and compatible relationship with Clearly Ahead, there has also been some “rough spots” like in any relationship. He said a couple years ago, the commissioners expressed their view on several issues very strongly to the Clearly Ahead board of directors, and there was a reaction to it.
Since then, he said that there have been other issues with Clearly Ahead that individual commissioners have expressed to him. And now, he said “the Rob Swales incident is one that adds heat to the situation,” and the county may be reviewing its relationship with Clearly Ahead.
Kesner said the county did have contractual relations with Clearly Ahead, and that would mean legal considerations. But he said there was also the issue of the continuing relationship between the county and Clearly Ahead.
Both Sobel and McCracken said they were OK with Kesner’s suggestion. McCracken also noted the county has a stand-alone contract with Clearly Ahead through Dec. 31, 2016, as well as a “side situation” with the county having been utilizing Suite 4 for both offices and storage.
McCracken said he felt that relationship clouded the possibility of terminating, modifying or correcting any issues the county has with Clearly Ahead. Kesner said the commissioners could choose to take action on the county’s lease and appropriations agreements with Clearly Ahead separately.
Kesner said the commissioners have not taken action and must deliberate, which he felt shouldn’t be done in increments. McCracken said he felt they should clear the air with the Suite 4 issue and then address either as a current or future board as to what the relationship will be with Clearly Ahead.
Kesner advised for Sobel and McCracken to confer with Robinson-McMillen upon her return Nov. 18 as to when the commissioners will publicly address upcoming Clearly Ahead matters.
During the regular meeting Tuesday, the commissioners voted to approve an agreement with Archives Management of Brockport for storage of county records pending Kesner’s review and approval. The records are currently stored in Suite 4 on Spruce Street.