‘He has no ev­i­dence’

Springfield Sun - - NEWS -

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.”

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sion­ers Val Arkoosh and Joe Gale.

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