Army Heritage Center Foundation request for county hotel tax dollars likely to fail
The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa.
CARLISLE, Pa. — The Army Heritage Center Foundation likely will not receive any extra financial support from Cumberland County.
Commissioner Chairwoman Barb Cross told The Sentinel’s editorial board Monday that she would recuse herself from any vote, including a tie-breaker, should a foundation request for 20 percent of the county’s $1.6 million hotel-tax revenue make it to a vote.
Cross’s recusal and Commissioner Gary Eichelberger’s “no” vote leaves the foundation empty-handed. Although state law permits recused members of three-person boards to vote in the event of a tie, Cross says she will opt out.
Cross waited nearly four weeks before recusing herself, despite growing concern surrounding her involvement in the foundation’s plan to request county funding.
“I learned very, very early that I am very, very reticent to announce on any topic how I am going to vote until that motion is made,” she said.
Cross said she based her decision on the expertise of county Solicitor Ed Schorpp, who said in a memo dated July 29 that her dual role as a voting member on both the board of commissioners and the foundation’s board created a conflict of interest when it came to voting on the hotel-tax request.
Schorpp defined a conflict of interest as the use of office of a public official “for the private pecuniary benefit” of a business he or she is associated with. In his legal opinion, the foundation board constitutes a business. Citing the 2009 case Rendell v. Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, Schorpp said a conflict of interest indeed exists.
“Thus, a commissioner who sits as a director on the AHEC board and who, at a board of commissioners meeting, votes to provide a share of hotel taxes to AHEC, would be using the authority of his/her office for the private pecuniary benefit of AHEC, a nonprofit corporation,” Schorpp said in the letter to commissioners. “Therefore, should the commissioner vote on the funding request, he or she would engage in a conflict or conflict of interest which is prohibited by the act.”
Cross did “not recall engaging in the conversation” with foundation board members about the hotel tax proposal, but says media criticism pressured her into resigning from the organization on Aug. 15.
“As it turned out best, my stepping off the foundation board was perhaps not to perpetuate the concern of whether or not I would ever recuse myself or not,” she said.
Cross’ involvement in the proposal remains unclear as The Sentinel waits for the commissioner’s office to supply copies of the foundation’s meeting minutes under the state’s Right to Know law.
Calls and emails to foundation Executive Director Mike Perry went unreturned Monday.