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By Tarek Tannous , Staff Writer                                                                                                 

January 25, 2003 

SADSBURY -- A former township supervisor abused his authority when he utilized public equipment for private projects and altered the plans of a sewage line that would have cost him, as a property owner, more than $17,000, a State Ethics Commission investigation has concluded.

Neil Heineman, who served as a township supervisor from January 1996 to December 2001, and was at one time chairman of the board of supervisors, was ordered to pay $3,500 to the township by the ethics commission, which had launched an investigation into Heineman’s actions after a complaint filed in 2001.

The township will now examine the matter with its solicitor to see if further recourse is warranted.

"I think there will be further action," said Supervisors’ Chairman Joe "Ralph" Garris Jr.

Supervisor Douglas Doratt, who unseated Heineman in the last election, gave a similar response.

"We have to look into it. He abused his power," Doratt said.

Ethics commission investigators found that Heineman violated an ordinance of the state ethics act when he used the authority of his office to move a proposed sewer line to a far enough distance from his personal and rental properties that he would not be obligated to tap into the system and pay the necessary fees.

Another violation of the ordnance, that Heineman used township-owned construction equipment for personal work on his property, was deemed "unintentional" by the ethics commission.

Heineman was cleared of a third allegation, that he received a salary for his position as township treasurer without having the figure approved by the township board of auditors. Investigators concluded that, since the township auditors resigned before Heineman took the position, and since the payments Heineman received were reviewed by a certified public accounting firm, there was no violation.

The allegations stem from when the issue of the township sewer system had become a concern. A 1994 study by the Chester County Department of Health had found that half of the township’s sewer disposal systems were faulty and concluded that the township needed to provide an alternative system.

Heineman, not yet a supervisor, was among a group of citizens concerned with the costs of connecting the township to an alternative system. He and another group member, Terry Franciscus, were later elected supervisors and became involved in the township discussions of the sewer plans, but not before the township had approved the installation of a new system.

Heineman continued to oppose the plan. The planned sewer system required all property owners with residences within 150 feet to connect to the system, at a cost of $2,450. Heineman’s property, which includes his house and a nearby building with six apartment units, sits on Greenbelt Drive and is within the 150-foot boundary.

"One of the reasons for Heineman’s opposition was the plan would have resulted in increased expenses for Heineman for tap-ins of his personal and rental properties," the ethics commission said.

Investigators found that Heineman used his influence as supervisor and township liaison to the developers hired to install the system to have the plan changed so his property would not be within the 150-foot boundary.

The commission found that Heineman’s maneuvering in the sewer line matter saved him from making payments that totaled $17,150.

"He knew better," Garris said. "He’s no different than any other taxpayer who had to pay for the tap-in."

As for the use of township equipment, the ethics commission ruled that, though it was a violation of a state ethics statute, it was done unintentionally.

In February 2000, Heineman had approached the other supervisors, Garris and Franciscus, and asked if they opposed him using a new township backhoe for personal work at his residence.

"Garris informed Heineman that he, Heineman, would have to be the judge as to whether it was proper for him to use the backhoe at his residence," the commission found. "Franciscus was not opposed, but did not approve, the use of the backhoe by Heineman."

At the time, the backhoe was in use at a project on Buck Run Creek, about one or one and a half miles away from Heineman’s home. Heineman was township roadmaster at the time and, as work at the Buck Run Creek site was being conducted, he stored the backhoe on his property.

"The backhoe was left at Heineman’s residence for approximately one month in March, 2000, during which time Heineman used it to demolish a section of his residence," the commission found.

His use of the equipment was seen by township residents, who complained at a supervisors’ meeting the next month. The commission’s findings note that the rental costs for that model backhoe during the year 2000 would have amounted to $275 a day, $825 a week or $2,400 a month.

İDaily Local News 2003 

Reader Opinions:

Name: jessica march                                                                                   

Date: Jan, 25 2003   

I believe that when you work for a company you have special privileges. Heineman's special privilege was to save himself $2,400 by using the backhoe. Any other resident in the area would have done the same thing. As for all the residents within 150 feet to the new sewerline having to pay $2,450 to connect to the system, that is an outrage! Residents should have the choice if they want to connect. What is being done for residents that don't have the money? Why do the residents pay township, county, school and per capita taxes if they still have to pay for costly township projects? As for Heineman, I do not blame him for trying to save 17,500 dollars, Had I been in the position where I could save myself the money I would have done the same thing.

 

Name: Jack Erb                                                                                           

Date: Jan, 25 2003  

I would imagine that abuses such as this one are only the tip of the iceburg. The whole system needs to be investigated at the township, borough, and county levels.

İDaily Local News 2003

 

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