Fawn supervisor, planning commissioner, resigns
Fawn supervisors dissolved the township’s planning commission after Rick Smith resigned as both a township supervisor and member of the commission.
Smith, who was elected supervisor in 2015, was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
He didn’t return numerous phone calls from a reporter Wednesday.
His resignation as a township supervisor and a member of the planning commission, of which he was chairman, was effective June 30. The four remaining supervisors accepted it unanimously.
Supervisors Chairman Dave Montanari said a resignation letter was left at the township building, but none of the supervisors nor township Secretary Pam Ponsart spoke to Smith. Montanari said Smith gave no reason in his letter for his resignation.
The resignation left two people, Carrie White and Carla Bussotti, on what is supposed to be a five-member planning commission. Supervisor Chuck Venesky said one has been on the board for a year and the other roughly two years.
White said Smith resigned because he was unhappy with supevisors about proposals from the planning commission.
She said the commission found a contractor, Michael Baker Engineering, to work with an Indiana University of Pennsylvania student to write updated zoning rules and a comprehensive plan.
“It was under the $10,000 budget the supervisors gave us and the company was going to give us $22,000 in pro bono (free) work,” White said.
“They shot it down, and he stepped down as a supervisor,” she said about Smith.
Contacted Wednesday, Montanari said the $10,000 was only the first of four components proposed by Michael Baker Engineering. Each component would cost $10,000, he said.
Montanari said supervisors voted down the $50,000, five-part package at budget time. He said about $10,000 is needed to do legal and engineering updates.
On Tuesday, Montanari proposed that the township dismantle the planning commission and that the supervisors take on its responsiblities.
The other supervisors appeared hesitant to take on the added duties, with Supervisor Garry Christy noting that it “is a lot of work.” He suggested trying to find three new members.
But Montanari said there are matters, such as several proposed subdivision applications, that the township has to address.
“This stuff has to happen,” he said. “When a resident submits an application, it can’t just sit there.”
Solicitor Steve Yakopec said the supervisors are legally able to take over the commission’s duties.
Montanari told his fellow supervisors that he does not want the arrangement to be prolonged.
“Down the road, we want to rebuild this,” Montanari said. “We want a planning commission. We need a planning commission.”
The supervisors agreed to do that. However, the board took no action to seek applicants for the commission or Smith’s now-vacant supervisors seat.
Resident Phillip Smozski was skeptical of the supervisors handling the commission’s duties.
“I don’t think you supervisors have enough hours to do the job of the planning commission,” Smozski said.
But Montanari said the board had become dysfunctional and not done the work it was supposed to do, particularly regarding updating the township’s comprehensive plan. That has not been done since 1994, although the state requires such plans to be updated every 10 years.
Smozski said there are people in the township who want to serve on the commission, including himself.
“This was the plan all along, to dissolve the planning commission,” Smozski said. “There’s plenty of people who have put their names in the hat. My name has been in the hat for more than a year.”
However, Montanari said the current planning commission members had asked the supervisors to hold off appointing any new members. He said that was because of the task of updating the comprehensive plan.
“They said, ‘No, they’re going to complicate things because we’re going to have to teach them,’” Montanari said.
White and Bussotti could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Smith’s relationship to the other supervisors, particularly Montanari, had become strained in regard to the planning commission and the comprehensive plan.
He and the other commission members wanted to hire an outside agency or consultant to update the comprehensive plan.
Last year, the supervisors agreed to allocate $50,000 for that purpose but that changed in November.
Montanari said spending $50,000 for that did not sit well with him.
He said updating the plan is something that the planning commission had done in the past and should be able to do now. Although he conceded that the money would not break the budget or cause a tax increase, Montanari argued that hiring an outside consultant would do nothing to fix the dysfunctionality that he sees on the panel.
The supervisors decided to reduce the allocation to $10,000 and use it to pay for consultations between the commission and Yakopec or Senate Engineers, the township engineers, in seeking advice on the update.
However, the commission members persisted in getting outside help.
At a June meeting, White brought in representatives from Michael Baker International and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which have a joint program to help municipalities with planning and zoning.
Josh Mallow, Baker’s representative, said the township would be better off writing a new plan, which would be more costly. He said it would cost a minimum of $10,000 to do an update. He said only about half the current plan and associated ordinances comply with the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.
Montanari did not budge on his previous stance, saying the board did not want to write a new plan, just update the current one and have the commission do the work.
White said the commission members felt they were not qualified to do such technical work.
Tribune-Review staff writer Chuck Biedka contributed to this report. Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.