‘He has no evidence’
Arkoosh “categorically rejected” Gale’s accusations of pay-to-play politics, saying the contributions were not tied to projects or votes, and added Gale’s accusations demonstrated his lack of understanding of the process.
Since 2012 the county has been run under several ethics policies, which are listed on its website. Policy states every public meeting, request for proposal and bid must be advertised. The county also established a website for any vendor to view who would like to apply for a project. Companies interested in submitting a proposal are asked to fill out a disclosure form that includes whether or not they have ever contributed to any commissioners’ campaign. That information is publicly available, along with all campaign finance documents. A committee that reviews all of the proposals sees those disclosure forms as well. The disclosure information is not a factor taken into consideration one way or the other. From there proposals are divided among teams of staff members, who score the projects and pick the best bids, depending on the project. Sometimes the winning proposal has to be the lowest cost. In most cases, the county has a responsible contracting policy, so the winning bids are the ones that meet the most criteria, even if it’s not necessarily the lowest bid.
“By the time it gets to us, the decision has been made,” Arkoosh said. “We don’t actually pick. It’s gone through a very objective process.”
Regarding LERTAS, it’s county policy that the commissioners always vote last on projects after a municipality and school district approve it, she said. If one of those governing bodies voted no on a project, the county wouldn’t even consider it.
The LERTA approved at the June 15 meeting had already been approved by the school district and the borough, she said. The county was the last government entity to vote on it.
“So if you’re implying that campaign contributions to me somehow influenced the vote of the entire Norristown school board, the entire Norristown Borough Council, you just simply don’t understand how this process works,” she told Gale.
The properties benefitting from tax abatements would not otherwise be developed without the assistance, she explained. The project in Norristown will turn an empty lot into needed affordable housing to assist seniors, and after the first year, more tax revenue will be coming into the county. Without the LERTA assistance, these types of projects would not happen.
“I don’t think you understand this process,” she reiterated to Gale. “I don’t think you understand what it means to be a commissioner that looks forward in terms of doing the best for Montgomery County.”
When Gale called on Arkoosh to address the fact that many of the developers behind these projects made contributions to her campaign, she said she’s the commissioners chairwoman.
“It’s completely understandable that people choose to give to my campaign,” she said. “Perhaps they like the way this county is being run, which is not something that you have contributed to. All you do is sit there and throw stones at people. These individuals may have decided that they think this county is moving in the right direction.”
Shapiro’s office declined to comment for this story other than to stand behind Arkoosh’s statements.
Board Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence Jr., also a Democrat, likewise supported Arkoosh, saying he’s never seen evidence of pay-to-play politics and was disappointed by Gale’s comments. He called on Gale to show him real proof of his assertions.
While Gale freely made his comments during the public meeting June 15, he refused to offer any real evidence of pay-to-play politics during the closed door press conference with the commissioners and staff afterward. He insisted that when he would bring up transparency issues in the past, the press conference would turn into “a big fiasco.” He said the press conference should be open to the public and proposed doing so previously, but his colleagues would rather have it in a closed setting.
Arkoosh, meanwhile, said she felt the reason Gale wasn’t willing to offer any hard evidence against her was much simpler.
“He has no evidence because there is no evidence,” she said.
The amount of dollars Gale referenced during the meeting was a considerably small fraction of her entire contributions, she said.
“There has never been a contribution that I have accepted from anyone that was in any way tied to any promise of a vote, any implication of a promise of a vote or even the request for a vote,” she said. “Again I categorically reject his insinuations. He has no evidence.”
Lastly, Arkoosh said she found it ironic that Gale will criticize deals that will lead to further development then take credit for the development afterward.
“He can’t have it both ways,” she said. “He can’t take credit for a very positive economic environment here: The fact that people are moving to our county, the fact that businesses are moving to this county. He can’t take credit for all these things and then turn around two days later and imply there’s been some sort of pay-to-play when it absolutely does not exist.”
Montgomery County Commissioners Val Arkoosh and Joe Gale.