Moon officials feel tensions from private meetings about rezoning former Holiday Inn
By Sandra Fischione Donovan and Tory N. Parrish
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Marv Eicher wants Moon Township supervisors to decide whether he should remain as chairman because of “damaging emails” regarding the recent rezoning of the former Moon Holiday Inn for a Robert Morris University dormitory.
Eicher requested a reorganization of the board and asked for an investigation into the emails, the origin of which he did not disclose.
Eicher said emails to township Manager Jeanne Creese called his actions “improper,” which he denied, were used to “question my integrity” and resulted in divisions on the board.
“I am not going to subject myself to what has been going on for the past three weeks,” he said.
Creese declined to comment, as did township solicitor Timothy Bish.
The controversy stems from private meetings that Supervisors Jim Vitale and John Hertzer held with Robert Morris President Gregory Dell'Omo.
Eicher said that university officials wanted to meet with one supervisor “to negotiate conditions” for the rezoning. Eicher said Dell'Omo had contacted him about a meeting, but Eicher declined, saying discussions outside of a public hearing that began July 1 and continued on July 22 would not be proper.
At the July 22 public hearing, Bish acknowledged that Vitale and Hertzer had met with Dell'Omo, even though they are not permitted under the Second Class Township Code because the supervisors in being asked to approve the zoning change were acting in a quasi-judicial manner.
Both Vitale and Hertzer said they could act objectively, and the hearing continued. The supervisors approved the rezoning 4-0.
As part of the rezoning, Robert Morris agreed to accept responsibility for traffic light improvements and pay developers' fees, with an estimated savings to the township of $275,000, Eicher said.
Vitale said he and Hertzer were not negotiating with Robert Morris.
“We were just trying to find out where we could get some movement,” said Vitale, who said the deal with Robert Morris had stalled.
Vitale did say that he and Hertzer likely did act inappropriately, but they were unaware they were doing so.
“This was the first time we acted in a judicial role, and we really didn't know what our boundaries were. But I knew if we continued as we were, nothing would get accomplished,” he said.
Hertzer said he thinks Eicher is trying to divert attention away from other issues.
Robert Morris believes the rezoning process is a “Moon Township matter” and that the university did nothing wrong, spokesman Jonathan Potts said.
“We believe that our interactions with township officials throughout this whole process were entirely appropriate,” he said.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association in Harrisburg, said Vitale and Hertzer did not violate the state's open-meetings law because there was no quorum of the five-member board present. Still, that doesn't mean they acted properly, she said.
“Even if what they did was technically legal, it still gives the appearance of impropriety,” she said. “When you're acting as a judge, you need to behave as a judge and a judge wouldn't do that. Judges have open proceedings in court.”
On a motion made by Eicher, the supervisors voted 3-1 to have Bish provide names of two independent investigators to look into the emails and “facilitate reconciliation among members of the board.”
Supervisor Andrew Gribben was absent. Vitale, who was out of town and attended via telephone, said he “registered the ‘no vote' because I could not hear everything.”
Eicher asked Creese to place the board's reorganization on its September agenda. Vitale said later the reorganization may or may not take place.
“I'm one of five supervisors, and no one has said we definitely need to get rid of the chairman,” Vitale said.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer. Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or email@example.com.
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