Says action by Smith lacked 'integrity'
— A Milford-based attorney demanded an apology from Honesdale Borough Councilman Scott Smith on Monday night.
Though Jason Ohliger didn't get the apology, he certainly made clear his feelings about a chain of events which he said embarrassed him and should never have happened.
The issue stems from what happened at the previous meeting of the council — and, as it turns out, goes all the way back to January, according to Ohliger.
Last month, a proposal was placed on the table by Smith to hire Ohliger as an alternate solicitor. It was apparently not known by all members of the council that Smith had contacted Ohliger about the position.
But Borough Solicitor Rich Henry told members last month there was no language in the borough charter for an alternate solicitor. Smith withdrew the motion.
But there is apparently much more to the story.
"It is apparent to me no one explained where it came from," said Ohliger about the motion made at the last meeting.
So Ohliger proceeded to tell the council — and public — the story at Monday's regular monthly meeting of the council.
Ohliger said it was back in January when he was first contacted by Smith and asked "if I was interested in being borough solicitor."
The attorney said he told Smith it was his understanding that Henry was the borough solicitor and he told Smith he was "not willing to take" the job "unless Rich Henry stepped down."
Ohliger said in April, he received a call from Smith who asked him to look at some paperwork, which he understood were "loan documents."
It was around that same time when the borough was working on state documents related to the downtown anchor building project. At that time, the council voted to make it a 20-year loan to the owners of the building in the downtown area.
The anchor building project is a state-funded program which allows the borough to make a major loan to a developer to improve a building and then that money is paid back to the borough. The borough can then use that money to make more loans to smaller businesses for improvements.
Ohliger said during the course of that April conversation, Smith asked him if he was interested in applying to be the "alternate solicitor" for the borough.
Ohliger said he submitted a letter and resume to Smith.
But when the issue arose last month, Ohliger said the motion was for a "substitute solicitor," something he said is nothing more than a smokescreen.
He said someone in that position is asked to give an opinion "when you don't like what your solicitor says. That is not a reason to appoint a substitute solicitor."
He said that Henry "is owed better."
Ohliger called being a solicitor for a public entity a "tough job."
Ohliger said he wanted to "clear the air" about the matter because he felt the entire episode painted him and Henry in a bad light.
He said people have approached him and asked if he was going after the job currently occupied by Henry.
"I take my practice very seriously," said Ohliger.
He said the "scenario" surrounding his situation "lacks integrity. I hope Mr. Smith will extend his apology."
Smith countered by saying the motion was for an alternate solicitor.
"Why did you not talk to Mr. Henry?" said Ohliger.
He also said it was his understanding nobody else on council "seemed to have prior knowledge to that."
Councilman Bob Jennings asked Ohliger if he was told by Smith that Henry was going to step down.
"Yes, I was told Mr. Henry was going to step down," said Ohliger.
Jennings asked who told him that and he said it was Smith.
At the previous meeting, Smith said he made the proposal because he had difficulty contacting Henry about issues which were pressing.
Henry said Monday that Smith had contacted him when he was in Harrisburg and the conversation was about the anchor building loan. He said Smith asked him about the loan length, whether it was 20 or 30 years.
Henry said the council had voted to make it a 20 year loan.
"Apparently he did not like that response," said Henry.
In fact, at the last meeting of the council, Henry said the loan documents had been altered without his approval. That alteration was extending the terms of the loan from 20 to 30 years.
The council reversed that course and the loan documents were set at 20 years and now have been approved by the state.
Henry was then asked to give his views about the entire situation.
"This is nonsensical," said Henry. "I almost want to leave."
However, Henry said he had "respect" for the "other five" members of the council who were present at Monday's meeting, as well as the public and the mayor.
"I have been betrayed," said Henry. "You folks have been lied to."
Henry said the entire matter goes back to the CVS project, in which Henry advised the council about the 4th and Main Street intersection and said he thought they should not turn control of the matter over to CVS officials.
The council voted 4-3 to enter into a "developer's agreement," against the advice of Henry.
Henry said he was "orally rebuked" by Smith during a "private meeting" concerning CVS.
"I was castigated by him on this and several other issues," said Henry.
He said that if decisions "are not the choosing of Mr Smith, then I'm wrong and should be dismissed."
Council vice-president Jim Brennan, who ran the meeting in the absence of president F.J. Monaghan, said he had the "utmost confidence" in Henry as the borough solicitor.
Henry pointed out that the "draft agenda" which was distributed to the council for Monday's meeting had "assistant solicitor" under new business.
Indeed, the agenda sent June 7 from the main Honesdale Borough email did have that on the agenda.
Henry pointed out the item was taken off of the regular agenda.
Mayor Ed Langendoerfer said Henry is "very respectable" and always looks out for the "interests of the taxpayers."
(Note: We will have more coverage of the council meeting in the next edition of this newspaper.)