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Ligonier Valley YMCA complains of conflict of interest in rezoning

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Ligonier Valley YMCA has filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission alleging that former council member Kim Shaffer should not have voted on its rezoning requests because she sold the group the land at issue, creating a conflict of interest.

Attorney Mark Sorice, who represented the YMCA in the zoning matters, said Chief Executive Officer Ben Wright filed the complaint on behalf of the YMCA. Wright referred all questions to Sorice.

Shaffer did not return telephone messages left Monday and Tuesday seeking comment. She could not be reached at her office or home on Tuesday afternoon.

According to the State Ethics Commission website, violations regarding voting conflicts can result in misdemeanor charges and fines of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to one year. β€œAny person who obtains financial gain from violating any provision of the Ethics Act can be ordered to pay three times the financial gain into the state treasury or the treasury of the political subdivision,” it says.

In September, Shaffer voted against two requests from the Y for its expansion plans. The YMCA asked council to rezone two pieces of land for commercial use and sought permission to put in a parking lot at the site.

The land was owned by Shaffer's parents and, as executrix of the estate, Shaffer sold two pieces of property to the YMCA for $170,000, said Sorice and deed records filed with Westmoreland County.

Shaffer, a member of council for 30 years, resigned on Oct. 29, saying the issue was interfering with her work as a legislative aide to state Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant Township.

Sorice said that during the sale, Wright and YMCA board president Doug Welty discussed a possible contingency with Shaffer, stipulating that the YMCA would only purchase the land if the rezoning was approved.

Wright and Welty said that Shaffer told them if they agreed to buy the land without that contingency, she would use her influence on council to get the YMCA's requests approved, according to Sorice.

Sorice said YMCA board members were taken aback when Shaffer did not disclose the property sales or the negotiations when the rezoning requests went before council.

Before those proceedings, Sorice said, the YMCA instructed him to write a letter to attorney Daniel Hewitt β€” who represented the borough in the zoning requests β€” about the conversations between YMCA officials and Shaffer. Shaffer had said she voted on the YMCA requests, based on a written opinion from Hewitt.

Hewitt declined to comment on Tuesday. The YMCA filed an appeal on Nov. 5. It asked Judge Anthony Marsili to overturn council on and asserted that Shaffer should have recused herself from voting.

When council met Nov. 14, they voted 3-3 on the YMCA's rezoning package. Bellas broke the tie to approve it.

Shaffer has been elected to another term on council but has declined comment on whether she will take office in January. Sorice said the YMCA plans to withdraw its zoning appeal.

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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