Upper Bucks in growing up. Who would have guessed that the McCain/Palin team, and Bill Clinton, would both want to be here in the same election season? It is unlikely that national politics would turn on these appearances, but Quakertown is dealing with another local political issue that should not have been political at all. Nancy Roberts and Nancy Ackerman, the President and Treasurer of the privately-owned Quakertown Historical Society, may be responsible for QHS losing it's IRS not-for-profit tax status, and perhaps even its lease with Qtown.
The Historical Society building, known as the Barn, is owned by the Borough, along with the Burgess Foulke House, and Liberty Hall. They were leased to QHS in 1991 for $1 per year, though all QT taxpayers still foot the bills for many of the expenses. The Society agreed to use the properties "in a manner consistent with the goals and objectives of the organization". That certainly would exclude partisan politics. And there were no problems while Glen Bosworth was President. But ten years later, Roberts took over.
She cost QT residents over $23,000 when she failed to properly check out, and supervise, a fly-by-night contractor who shabbily re-sided the QHS Barn, requiring that the entire job be redone. She also was a close political ally of disgraced former Borough Manager Dave Woglom, who wrote to Council in 2005 "Today I received a request from Nancy Roberts to come to our meeting tonight and talk to council. I do not know for sure what kind of assistance they (QHS) want, but I wanted to let you know that I am not opposed to whatever Council wants to do. The Borough has been good to the Society in both financial methods and in non-direct financial ways."
One of those mysterious "non-direct financial ways" was for Council to overlook Article 5 of the lease, which stated "The development of standards for all work undertaken to stabilize, preserve, restore, or replicate the historic fabric of the Burgess Foulke House or Liberty Hall shall be the responsibility of the Quakertown Historic Society Board". But Woglom's private memo revealed "The Borough is also paying approximately $10,000 for the HVAC consultant to design the specifications" for an air conditioning system for the Burgess Foulke House.
So perhaps Roberts, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Council in 2007, thought that the post-Woglom Council would just continue to overlook her lease violations. In an apparently attempt to ingratiate herself with county Dems, she has allowed the Barack Obama campaign to use the Barn every day since early October for fund-raising phone banking. But Article 2 of the lease states: "At no time is any revenue to be generated from use of the properties and buildings for any private purpose."
How did Roberts get her board of directors to go along with this obvious no-no? According to those members, she didn't take the normal course of bringing the issue up at a board meeting. Instead, she called each of them at home, and deceived them by telling them that "the Borough" had approved the use! Neither Manager Scott McElree, nor Council President Jim Roberts (no relation) knew anything about it, and were "shocked and outraged". Their first step will be to modify the lease, to prevent any such abuse in the future.
Allowing the Obamans to use the Barn also violates more than 50 years of consistent, and clear, IRS regulations, which should have been second nature to both Nancys: "Organizations that are exempt from income tax under section 501c3 may not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office". There are some exceptions. So, the IRS looks at four tests: "Whether the good, service or facility is available to candidates in the same election on an equal basis; Whether the good, service, or facility is available only to candidates and not to the general public; Whether the fees charged to candidates are at the organization's customary and usual rates; and Whether the activity is an ongoing activity of the organization or whether it is conducted only for a particular candidate."
Roberts' deal fails all four. The Obamans were the only ones invited. They are the only ones ever to phone bank. They paid QHS only $500 for about 35 days, less than half of the "customary and usual" public rate. The partisan political use was clearly "only for a particular candidate", and not an ongoing QHS activity. And the government takes the law very seriously. In 2004, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of five organizations for engaging in banned political activities, and recommended revocation for two more.
So, you say, "Qtown would have allowed McCain to use the municipal stadium, what's the problem with Obama using the Barn?" The situations are totally different. The stadium, and bandshell, in Memorial Park have always been available for private organizations, even those hoping to make money. Proceeds benefit the residents. Council always publicly discusses, and votes on, the uses and fees first. The QHS lease forbids it from using its borough subsidies to help private organizations profit at taxpayer expense. And Roberts hid the improper use from Council, and even from her own board. As far as the IRS is concerned, the borough is not a 501c3, and is not under the same constraints.
The QHS lease requires that there be a watchdog committee, comprised of Council members, the borough manager, and HS members, "to keep Borough Council Members informed of the activities and needs of the Society". Nancy R never complied. Now we know why. She has even closed the building to the public, despite borough ownership. She has betrayed her board, her contributors, her party, Council, and Qtown taxpayers. How these deceptions are handled will be the first real ethics test of the post-Woglom Council. If they don't take meaningful action, they will have a lot of explaining to do.
And Speaking Of Explaining - Peterson Hasn't
According to the Boy Scout Law, scouts are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Tom Peterson apparently noticed that "open and honest" isn't on that list.
Peterson is a Philadelphia school teacher, running against 14-term incumbent Paul Clymer for State Rep in the 145th district. He widely trumpets having been an Eagle Scout (back in the 60's). But with no political or community-service experience, Peterson is relying on two things to get elected: his unsubstantiated claim of having saved major companies billions of dollars, and Barack Obama's coattails. So before you pull that Straight Democratic Party Ticket lever, perhaps you should check out Peterson's record. I tried...
Peterson's sole claim of accomplishment on his website is his statement "I sold technology through the 70's and 80's and started my own consulting organization in 1991. The central question my consulting practice addressed was - How much should we invest in our customers? Some of my clients - Oracle, VISA, Hewlett Packard, and McDonalds - each saved over a billion dollars"...Over 500 organizations were my customer relationship clients".
WOW! Tom Peterson saved four of the largest companies in the world over $1 billion each! And he had over 500 organizations as clients! If that is all true, it is an amazing accomplishment. Something he should be proud to tell us about. In detail. After all, he is asking us to vote for him, rather than a local icon, based largely on his ability to save companies (and now, we presume, local taxpayers) big bucks. But here come the red flags: What did he actually do? Who will vouch for his claims? And, perhaps most troubling - why doesn't he have a single testimonial from any of them? Did they all just forget that he "saved" them $1 billion?
Tom even sent a portion of his website to The Free Press as a letter to the editor, entitled, ironically, "A Scout's Honor". He added the names Comcast and Verizon Wireless to the Billion-Dollar Saved Club. And he insisted that TFP has an obligation to "publish facts". He's right. So I sent him an email on October 10: " Tom - ...Based on your statement that The Free Press has a responsibility to 'publish facts', I am now asking you, for the record, to provide complete facts about how you PERSONALLY 'saved billions of dollars for HP, VISA, Oracle, Comcast and Verizon Wireless'. As part of your explanation, please provide a name and contact number for a responsible person at each of those companies who can attest to your accomplishments there."
No response. Hmm. I tried again on October 13. No response. Hmmmm. And again on October 16. No response. Hmmmmmm. In fact, Tom has never responded. Double Hmmmmmmmm8. If Peterson is going to base his entire campaign on his ability to save taxpayers huge amounts of money, he should at least be willing to tell potential voters how he did it before. Willing? He should be freakin' thrilled for the opportunity!
Peterson's letter to TFP offered a quote from scoutdom: "A Scout tells the truth. He keeps his promises. Honesty is part of his code of conduct. People can depend on him". But these are just empty words for a candidate avoiding facts. Without his explanations, there is no reason to vote for him. The Eagle has cooked his own goose.