Frozen funds foster chilly exchange in Homestead
Homestead's mayor says a frozen bank account may force her to cancel the Historic Steel Valley Christmas Parade.
Betty Esper wanted answers from Homestead council Thursday concerning her Spirit of Christmas account, which holds the money that funds the annual parade, this year scheduled for Dec. 1.
The mayor said she received a letter on Oct. 31 from First Commonwealth Bank informing her the account had been frozen due to “potential dispute.”
In the letter, the bank said it must receive a court order or a letter from the borough's solicitor before the funds can be freed.
“The bank took it upon themselves to freeze the account,” said Bill Hemminger, who was substituting for solicitor Bernie Schneider at Thursday's meeting. “We sent a letter (Thursday) asking them to produce the records we asked about.”
“I've been in this political game for 20 years,” Esper said. “I've done nothing but work for this borough.”
Esper chairs the committee that plans and coordinates the annual parade, as well as the borough's Community Day. She has headed the committee since Denise Kelly retired as Homestead's event planner approximately two years ago.
Months ago, when Esper requested $1,455 from council a few months ago to reimburse the Spirit of Christmas account for what she spent for Community Days, council had questions.
Councilwoman Zaneta Hines asked why only Esper's name was on the account, and why it had never been audited.
Council vice president Barbara Broadwater said she wondered why Esper was able to cash checks made out to Homestead borough.
Esper said she feels accused by council of taking money from the borough.
“You can't find dirt on a clean person,” she said. “Since this council (was installed) in January, I've had to take the disrespect that I've been given. If I open up my mouth at a meeting, I'm almost told not to talk.”
Esper asked council what she's being accused of doing.
Esper said she had to identify the Spirit of Christmas account as being for the borough of Homestead, because other municipalities could have similar accounts.
“All I've done is raise money to put on functions,” she said.
“No one has accused you of anything,” Homestead council President Susan Titmus said.
“Yes you are,” Esper said, “when you sit there and go through every paper that I know you're going through, to try to find something on me.”
Esper said Titmus received payment for being a councilor despite not having attended a council meeting for four years.
“Look into her account,” Esper said. “Find out how many meetings she attended.”
“When we asked about your account, you told us you were not going to give us any information,” Titmus said.
Esper said she answered council's questions.
She said she never received the $1,455 reimbursement for Community Days expenses.
“We signed the check last month,” Titmus said.
“Well I didn't get it,” Esper said.
Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or firstname.lastname@example.org.