locally owned since 1854

If $1.1 million isn’t missing, then tell all of us where it is: Editorial

Posted

The Press & Journal filed a Right-to-Know request Feb. 22 asking the borough of Middletown for a full account of what happened to $1.35 million that the borough council transferred to the former water and sewer authority on Dec. 30, 2015.

It was denied.

The Press & Journal filed a Right-to-Know request March 6 asking the borough of Middletown for copies of all correspondence, including physical letters and email, between the borough and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General between Jan. 2 and March 1.

It was denied.

The borough of Middletown posted a press release on its website following the Jan. 2 council meeting requesting an investigation by the attorney general’s office into the money.

It’s been removed.

The borough also posted the letter signed by Council President Angela Lloyd requesting the investigation.

It also has been removed.

Every livestream video from the last year of council meetings is on the borough’s website, except for that of June 19, when the audit done by RKL regarding the $1.35 million was discussed.

It apparently has been removed.

The AG’s office has not responded to phone calls and emails from the Press & Journal seeking comment regarding the borough’s request for an investigation.

We — the Press & Journal, the residents and business owners of Middletown — have a right to know where the money is.

Our Right-to-Know requests were both denied for this reason:

“Your request for records as noted above is denied in accordance with Section 708(b)(16) and (17) of the Law, ‘Exceptions for Public Records,’ which provides that an agency shall not be required to provide information relating to an investigation and/or protected by attorney-client privilege.”

It certainly appears likely if not certain that council is contemplating even more legal action, based on that reason. To what end, we aren’t sure. Are they planning to sue the council members, borough managers or other employees from 2015? The authority members? If so, it would add to a long list of legal action in which the borough is involved, and on which it spent more than $1 million in 2018.

In an editorial of July 18, 2018, we said: “If criminal activity took place, it must be prosecuted.”

We stand by that.

But that doesn’t mean a detailed account of what happened to the money can’t be released. Remember, the Right-to-Know law only says that an agency isn’t required to release the information we requested. It doesn’t mean it can’t if it so chooses.

RKL presented the audit findings to council at its June 19 meeting. According to the audit, RKL could only document what happened to $241,062.67 of the money.

Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter at council’s Feb. 19 meeting took issue with the Press & Journal having characterized that $1.1 million of the $1.35 million was missing, saying, “the forensic audit really doesn’t say that money is missing in the sense that it’s stolen or we don’t know where it is. It basically talks about a transfer of funds that they (RKL) felt was irregular, but not that the money is missing.”

We have read the audit over and over. We find no explanation of where the funds went.

Listen to the words of Emily A. Bomberger, a certified public accountant with the Business Consulting Services Group of RKL:

“Since the authority dissolved, we don’t have a lot of records. So it’s kind of hard to determine exactly where the $1.3 [million] went,” she told the Middletown Borough Council on June 19.

If the audit details where the money went, why did the borough go looking for it?

The borough after the June 19 meeting went to its bank to examine checks from 2015 through after the former authority dissolved in 2016. However, the probe didn’t turn up anything “of significance” regarding what happened to the $1.35 million, beyond what the borough already knew from the RKL audit, Klinepeter told the Press & Journal.

We have confidence that the details will come out. But the fact that we can’t get any answer from the borough — even so much as a point in the right direction in the audit as to where the money went — does not give us confidence in the transparency of the borough.

So if the money is not missing, and the borough doesn’t want us to call it missing, then enlighten us, and the residents and business owners of Middletown, as to what happened to it.