Yeadon Borough Council President Sharon Council-Harris, Councilwoman Learin Johnson and Possenti Management Firm are being accused of violating the state Ethics Act.
In a roughly 350-page complaint, filed by Yeadon Councilwoman LaToya Monroe in early April, the three are accused of conspiracy around contracting, nepotism in hiring, and conflict of interest.
In the complaint filed with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, Monroe claims several violations have been committed over a period of two years.
Specifically, Monroe alleges that Johnson operates a local drill team for which she receives public funding. Johnson, who admits to founding the Stars of Royal Excellence, denies she is the “executive director” and that she receives any compensation.
At issue for Monroe is that Johnson lobbied for public funds before being elected to Council and once on Council, voted to spend “$10,000 in the 2016 budget for the drill team,” that is described in a filed document as “Leiran’s (sic) Drill Team, etc.”
Additional funding for the team, according to the document, came from the borough credit card that Johnson allegedly “used to hide purchases for the drill team rather than have Council vote on them directly.”
“I have never received a penny for that drill team,” Johnson said, adding that former Borough Manager Larry Healy manned the credit card transactions. “I have never had my hands on a borough credit card; I don’t even know what it looks like.”
Further support, the complaint alleges, came from the Possenti company and the borough-funded Yeadon Economic Development Corporation (YEDC) although no amounts were listed.
Joseph Possenti, owner of the company, said whatever he gave was personal, not company-directed. He further said, “The YEDC was just started. Money hasn’t come in, money hasn’t come out, but I’m trying to get sponsors. A lot of towns have an economic development corporation; it’s separate from the borough.”
He said, “Sharon Council-Harris and Councilwoman Delores McCabe wanted to fund it, but it was voted down.”
The complaint, consisting of 14 exhibits in support of its allegations, raised concerns about hiring practices.
Monroe claims Johnson and Council-Harris used their political positions to ensure relatives got paid positions at the Yeadon Public Library while non-connected applicants were given only volunteer opportunities and the duo conspired with a former councilwoman to engineer the appointment of a current member following the former member’s sudden resignation shortly after being reelected.
While denying negative allegations, Johnson said she told her grandson to apply for a position because she felt he was qualified. “I felt like he had a right just like everybody else,” Johnson said. “If they meet the criteria, they should be qualified for the position; being related to me didn’t get him the job.”
Council-Harris did not respond to multiple attempts for comment and declined to be interviewed after last week’s Council meeting.
But the complaint takes aim at her for her involvement in trying to start a charter school in the William Penn School District. The complaint revisits the school’s application process in which Council-Harris was caught using language from another application as her own and listing as supporters people who did not give permission for that.
In prior interviews, Council-Harris said she would not be “the owner” of Super Kids Super School Charter School (SKSSCS), but she was pushing its creation to enhance the educational offerings for kids in the school district.
As for the Possenti firm, that manages daily borough government, the complaint alleges that it “was hired under an erroneous contract signed only by the President of Council.” Monroe says people are told the deal would cost $295,000 per year, “but actually is for $319,542.”
According to Johnson and Possenti the original fee was $319,542 per year, but he gave the borough a discount to due to its financial troubles when they “were in the red.”
The complaint further alleges political skullduggery in the hiring of current Yeadon Borough Manager Majovie Bland.
Bland, the complaint says, is “a current councilor in East Lansdowne, where Joseph Possenti is the treasurer.” Monroe says, through the complaint, that former manager Healy, also a Possenti employee, “indicated the (management) contract in East Lansdowne was in jeopardy” until Possenti hired Bland as Yeadon’s borough manager.
“That’s ridiculous,” Possenti said. “I’ve been in East Lansdowne for 20 years and I hired Bland to keep my contract? That’s classic,” he quipped. “I don’t understand how that’s a conflict. He’s an employee of mine,” adding that Bland’s positions do not conflict.
In the complaint, Monroe writes, “I was removed as Finance Chair immediately after reporting inconsistencies with the Possenti firm. I was served a Cease and Desist Order from the Possenti firm for the findings in my report.
“They’re reaching for straws,” Possenti said.” The borough has a lot of strength now and the Council president is doing a good job. I’m getting tired of it; it’s been like this since January 2014. Some of these people are making slanderous remarks. I’m not a public official; I don’t have to take this. It borders on slander, it borders on libel. I checked with my attorney.”
“I don’t know why (Monroe’s) doing this, she’s just trying to make herself prominent,” Johnson said.