Last week, the township’s solicitor sent me a letter requesting my resignation as township auditor or otherwise be “given an opportunity to show cause why you should not be removed from the Office of Auditor” at the next Board of Supervisors meeting today, April 24. I plan to deliver the below comments and then address questions they may have.
Hello, my name is Jake Towne. I have been a township resident for about 28 years of my life. I grew up here playing baseball, going to Lower Nazareth Elementary, and graduating from Nazareth High School. My two kids and I just came from a soccer practice where I have volunteered as a coach for the Nazareth Soccer Club for the past 3 years.
Politically, I once ran for US Congress back in 2010 as an independent. In 2017 I ran for both auditor and supervisor and was elected to auditor as a Libertarian. I currently serve as the Northampton County Libertarian Party chair. During my term as auditor, I have tried to serve the interests of the people living in the township as best I can and bring a little transparency to township government. Auditors should serve as independent fiscal watchdogs and I have taken this responsibility very seriously even though a major part of the responsibilities, the annual audit, has been farmed out by the township supervisors to a third party since 2001. I have pointed out this practice has cost township taxpayers at least $34720 extra during the past 7 audits.
There have only been two official meetings of the Board of Auditors and I have not only attended both meetings (2018 minutes, 2019 minutes) but I published and made public all board of auditor meeting minutes of not only those I attended but have reported on all board of auditor meetings since 2000 on my website, jaketowne.com. These meeting minutes are not shared publicly by the township. It is worth noting that although I am a duly elected auditor, I was rejected free access to board of auditor meeting minutes and instead had to submit a RTKL requests which took months to complete as none of these records were available from the township website.
Each of the two board of auditor meetings lasted about 15 minutes, and when offered $40 each time for my attendance, I refused it since I felt it was wrong and did not meet the compensation guidelines in the second class township code.
I have published the 2000 and 2001 township audits on my website plus those since 2014 since at the time they were also unavailable from the township website. Similarly, I was denied free access to these reports even though I am a duly elected auditor. As a direct result of my RTKL requests, the township decided to list the audits from 2011-2017 online, but only after I had released those I had copied during my multiple visits. This process required several visits because the township does not provide electronic PDFs but instead provides an empty room and a 1-hour time limit to read them.
I investigated the township pension plan and released some of the documents I acquired via RTKL requests on my website concerning the pension liabilities. I’ll give credit where credit is due and note the township moved new hires to a defined contribution plan this year I believe.
When I requested a list of township assets, the township manager refused. When I filed RTKL, the request was denied. The township claimed to not have any list of assets, partial or otherwise, available. As to why the township does not maintain a list of assets, I have no idea. When I requested invoices and documents on a single asset in particular, a $33,000 printer purchased by the township in 2017 and could not find adequate justification to support such a large purchase, I asked if I could at least verify the physical existence of the machine in the township office.
The township manager, Lori Stauffer, wrote:
“As to your request to view the printer and the other physical assets of the Township, I cannot accommodate this request. If I allow one resident to come in and view all the Township’s physical assets, I would need to provide the same opportunity to all 6,000 plus residents. As you can imagine, opening this type of opportunity to residents would compromise the safety of the employees here as well as create a disruption in the office and road department every time a resident chooses to come in for a look at the Township’s physical assets.”
Keep in mind I was only inquiring to view the one asset to verify its existence.
Not that this was in relation to my auditor duties, but I have recently been emailing the Board of Supervisors since January in regards to the proposed 0.25% income tax increase which is estimated to increase the annual tax load on residents by $700,000. I have been critical of the decision to place the referendum in the May primary for a multitude of reasons, chief among them that the historical turnout rate in 2017 was only 8% of all registered voters, and many independents and third parties have been denied voting access at past primaries.
I have repeatedly requested documents of past Open Space transactions in the township since these are relevant historical records to share publicly, and I have received denials. I have asked how many taxpayers paid the tax for 2017. My RTKL request for these records was also denied.
The point of the below is just to note that I have been zealously acting perhaps not in the interest of the Board of Supervisors or the township manager, but in the taxpayers’ and residents’ best interest. I have been completely shocked by the relative lack of public transparency by this township’s government. Keep in mind I was directly elected by the residents, I swore all the required oaths, I am an officer of this township, and I still cannot freely access township records.
I know for a fact that the exact opposite attitude exists in other townships for the elected auditors, whether they complete the annual audit or not. I also understand the township manager’s attitude which is that the board of auditors must act as a board in order to force the township to give free access to records but this certainly doesn’t rationalize the hostility towards sharing public information with a duly elected officer. To do otherwise essentially forgets that you all are supposed to work for the residents, not the other way around. This attitude is especially present in the proposed income tax increase where you plan to take more income away from families and individuals who would otherwise put that $700,000 per year to their own private use. Just because your proposed method of plunder would be “legal” only makes it legalized plunder as Frederic Bastiat describes in his essay “The Law.”
Now as to my residency, last month I moved from the township to Easton, about 5 miles from the township border. I am still willing and able to serve out my term as auditor and being in Easton in no way hinders me from attending any meetings or fulfilling the duties under the township code. I will not resign.
In the letter the township solicitor sent to me, he quoted article 4, section 407 of the second class township code. None of that code applies to my situation. As highlighted above, I have faithfully served the residents. I have attended all meetings of the board of auditors. I have done what I could to shine a little light via RTKL to this unbelievably opaque township government that has gone to considerable lengths to obstruct free access to township documents from a duly elected auditor. Section 407 also has a “removal from township” section but this could only apply to instances where section 503 applies since I will not – repeat, will not – offer you my resignation. Section 503 reads:
Removal of Township Officers and Appointees. — Whether elected or duly appointed to fill a vacancy in elective office, a township officer shall be removable from office only by impeachment, or by the Governor for reasonable cause after due notice and full hearing on the advice of two-thirds of the Senate, or upon conviction of misbehavior in office, or of an infamous crime in accordance with the Constitution of Pennsylvania, but the officer’s title to office may be tried by proceedings of quo warranto as provided by law.
So, in other words, it doesn’t appear that this township’s board of supervisors can simply legally make a motion to dismiss me as an auditor, and you have no power to appoint my replacement if I have not resigned.
Furthermore, as a Libertarian party member I will inform you that there are very few elected Libertarians and to get elected we have had a tough uphill fight against unfair ballot access and election laws that rig the system to favor the Republocrats. I believe all of you standing before me are Republicans or Democrats. So I’ll also inform you that if you take what I believe to be an illegal action to remove me as auditor, I will contact our party’s attorneys and utilize any other method I choose such as contacting the press, et cetera to fight back against your gross overreach. I would feel compelled to fight back due to the principle of it all. If you can simply wave your hands to dismiss me as an auditor, especially with a long list of obstructive actions to obstruct free access to township records, then it sets a terrible precedent that township boards of supervisors can eliminate the duly elected and faithful auditors who were elected by the people to be a fiscal watchdog on the supervisors themselves.
Thank you for your time, I know that was long winded but had to be said. If you have all of a sudden had a change of heart and will allow free access to township records, I am all ears. I will also patiently wait to see if you will release the information I have requested as it pertains to the income tax hike.