May 26 – After filing a Right to Know request to see how much the Chambersburg Borough Council paid attorneys from Salzmann and Hughes for a complaint brought against one of their own council members, the price tag was found to be $3,266.50.
From one complaint.
The complaint stemmed from an email exchange between a business owner and Council Member Allen Coffman that happened a few months ago in regards to a request that the borough council look into a possible non-discrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community.
Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the issue this morning on First News.
Ryan pointed out, “They say they’ll bill it to the borough but the borough doesn’t exist without Chambersburg taxpayers. This all stemming from one complaint from one individual in Chambersburg against a councilman that we have had on the radio station week after month after year after year. Bringing transparency, bringing the information to you on this radio station.”
Barkdoll reminded, “The meter hasn’t stopped there because remember the solicitor is also the liaison to this exploratory committee that is still meeting so you have the billing through April. You’ll see what it is going forward. That number is going to just keep rising.”
An interesting aspect on the invoice was found at the end of April.
Barkdoll said, “What really bugged me about the Right to Know request and by the way I don’t fault the lawyers they’re being hired to do this and of course they’re going to be paid to do whatever the borough directs them to do, but when you look at that entry at the end April there was almost 5 hours spent, it doesn’t identify for what, but when you look at that, connecting the dot to that strange…two to three page press release that outlined all these legal issues and we said at the time clearly that was written by an attorney.”
With the borough having a PR person, shouldn’t they be the ones to create press releases? Isn’t that what they’re paid to do?
Barkdoll said, “They had to hire the solicitor to do that for the tune of over $900. It would make me wonder if I’m on council, we should not be paying the solicitor to generate our press releases. We have our own person to do that. If our own person won’t do that, we’re elected officials, we’ll write our own press releases. We’ll make our own announcements. Keep your eye out on that as this exploratory committee keeps moving forward. Will they generate more press releases and updates and will that be billed through the solicitor’s office?”
Ryan said, “One complaint and the meter is still running. We’re relying on people that this is not in their wheelhouse. It is way above their $5,000 pay grade.”
Additionally, in that press release, there was a suggestion that Coffman may have gotten some financial gain in all of this.
Barkdoll explained, “In that press release they cite in there something called the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act. And part of that talks about the requirements of a public official to release or disclose their financial or pecuniary conflicts of interest. The fact that that was inserted into this press release related to this Human Relations Commission was puzzling at the time. What did this have to do with it? I remember thinking maybe there’s some other smoking gun here. Of course nothing else has ever come forward. Why that got injected into this is still puzzling to me. When you read the press release on the whole it certainly creates a suggestion that there may have been something dealing with a financial conflict of interest involved here.”
Jansen added, “They (borough council) never explained why they found merit and then why they found it was good to vote for this reprimand. We looked at the 27 pages that were submitted by the complainant. And we saw this press release. You know somebody actually stood up at that meeting and said that press release was brilliant, was wonderful, even a five year old could understand what they were saying here. Implicating that they believe there was some kind of financial gain by Allen Coffman. And they never explained their reasoning. This is really disgusting that they would put out something implicating something that looking at it from our point of view, we know is not true. I think we’re somewhat implicated in this.”
Ryan said, “There’s no money changing hands here, geniuses. Allen Coffman is a great man in Chambersburg. Allen Coffman is a great individual. He is of great value to the radio station and the people in the borough. He has the courage to come on here, talk about what happened at the meeting, preview the meeting. He’s done it for years on his own time. May that be a lesson to all of you on borough council number one, especially those folks who might even go down the path of having a review of our great police department. I want to know who has ridden on the ride alongs with the police department as you continue to hold some of those folks accountable as well. Dangerous stuff happening with this borough council.”
Barkdoll said, “When you go back and look at that press release, it is full of legal citations, case law, statutory citations. This just didn’t come out of thin air. Council clearly directed the solicitor’s office to put this together. It appears as though they spent hours doing this. Of course they billed the taxpayers, the borough to do this. I don’t think you can really make heads or tails out of it in the sense that much of it seems to have nothing to do with the case at hand. I think in some ways it created more confusion than anything. If I’m on council, I’m asking the question, why did we have to pay someone to do this? Why didn’t we do this internally with our own press officer? Why didn’t we as council members come up with our own statement? We shouldn’t be paying someone to write words that we just want to say from the council meeting which they could have done in the public form anyway.”
Jansen said, “What disturbs me, obviously this member of the public thought they could thought they could read truth into what that statement said from the lawyer. Do we have a right to ask council what is your conclusion, your reasoning for why you reprimanded councilman Coffman? Because they did not say. They just went ahead and took the vote and reprimanded him. They have that reprimanding statement. It doesn’t explain what exactly he did that was any kind of racial animosity. If you’re breaking the discrimination policies, it has to be because you are offending someone of those protected groups. It has to be. Or number two, really disturbing to me, is he got some kind of financial benefit out of it, you might be able to read into that statement. I want to know what exactly did they reprimand him for. Do we have a right to ask them to explain that?”
Barkdoll said, “You can ask, but they’re not going to answer it. No one on council is going to get a profile in courage award in the way they handled this. Remember the closing line of this press release in April talked about when we reconvene on May 17, any statement we issue or don’t issue is the final disposition, it speaks for itself. I think you can imply from that they will make no further comment on it. When that was issued, we found that a bit strange to make such a declaratory statement. I think anyone is certainly allowed to ask them more questions about it, but by their own press release statement, at least the majority that voted to do this, they seem to be saying in that press release they will make no further comments about this issue.”
Jansen noted, “It didn’t speak for itself. That’s what my issue is.”
Ryan concluded, “There are cowards that are being used on borough council. Just make sure you understand what’s happening there. Be very, very concerned about your good friend Allen Coffman that you’ve known for a very long time.”