Penn Forest Township has been undergoing FBI investigations for alleged misappropriations of some $1.6 million of taxpayer money. Township officials remain mum about the investigations, while many residents feel they are being lied to.
Walter Gibbon, a lifelong resident of the township, provided an emotional statement to the board of supervisors and citizens present at Monday's meeting:
"These board members have been lying to us for years. I've lived here all my life. We are demanding the truth," said Gibbon.
His emotional speech continued.
"This budget, consisting mainly of townspeople's monies, has been grossly mismanaged for years. Privately-owned businesses have been funded by public tax dollars, then deliberately omitted from meeting minutes," said Gibbon.
"When I questioned this in the past, I was ridiculed. Well, where are the expenditures? We the people want to see the numbers and the whole report. Now everyone is passing the blame, and placing most of the responsibility of the corruption on a secretary. It's absolutely ridiculous. Not only immoral, it's illegal."
Chairman Paul Montemuro sees the current landscape of the board differently.
"When myself, and fellow board members Mr. Katz and Judy Knappenberger, first came in, we were $650,000 in the hole," said Montemuro. "The previous board claimed they knew nothing from the shortages. We then did a CPA audit. We found that all the money was being thrown in one general fund.
"With fiscal management like that, how can you tell where the money is all going to? We then broke it all down, and found out that we were losing major money in road projects, and the transfer station. Certain people ran things to benefit themselves before, but the bottom line is that we're now here for the residents, and we're not here for the select few."
The chairman went on to claim that the township is the most financially sound in Carbon County, adding "every penny in our budget is now accounted for. Every penny."
In an attempt to prove his point to concerned residents, Montemuro showed how he says the board is already saving the township money, by utilizing waste management services provided by the state, instead of that of privately owned businesses. He stated that this is already saving the township upward of $100,000 per fiscal year.
The supervisors said they were losing a lot of money at the township transfer station, with mismanaged employees and services. In an effort to solve this issue, the board voted unanimously to add security cameras to the transfer station, to keep an eye on what goes on there.
In other township news, a proposed zip line project was opposed by residents and board members alike. The zip line was to be put in over a golf course, with its access road placed on a back road that is maintained by citizens.
Board members told residents this project could take years to even get permits for, and that they have nothing to worry about.
The display of political signs was another topic of discussion at Monday's meeting. The township voted 3 to 2 on the approval of a political signs ordinance.
Supervisor Christine Fazio strongly opposed the ordinance, stating it "went against first amendment rights."
"Who will enforce this ordinance?" she asked. "I don't think it's necessary. And I think it's very restrictive."
The next township supervisors' meeting will be held Monday, July 2 at 7 p.m. For more information about Penn Forest, visit http://www.pennforesttownship.org/ .