The Beaver County Board of Commissioners has sent a Cease and Desist letter to the Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic Development, threatening to withdraw support for the fledgling organization if dramatic changes to its mission and structure are not made immediately. The Commissioners’ letter raises questions about the propriety of the organization, and comes at a time when the Partnership has been positioning itself toward helping to obtain part of $75 million in funding that is being made available by the state for projects in the region.
The Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic Development (the Partnership) was born at the end of last year, designed to serve as a partnership between the public and private sectors to help leverage the multi-billion-dollar investment being made in the county by Shell Chemical. Among the organizations to be represented as part of the partnership include the Beaver County Board of Commissioners, Beaver County Corporation for Economic Development, Beaver County Redevelopment Authority and the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce.
[Founding directors of the Partnership include Charles “Skip Homan” (Larson Design), Valerie McElvy (Franklin Center), Tim Wetzel (Bridgeworks, LLC), John Hayward (Michael Baker/Robert Morris University (retired)), Rebecca Matsco (Leaders Serving Beaver County), Dr. Chris Reber (Community College of Beaver County), Jack Manning (Beaver County Chamber of Commerce), Norm Mitry (Heritage Valley Health System), Mario Leone (Monaca Borough Manager, Brusters), Jim Palmer (Beaver County Corporation for Economic Development), and Bethany Williams (City of Beaver Falls Community Development). Commissioner Sandie Egley serves as the Board of Commissioners’ representative to the Partnership.]
The Partnership has been holding working meetings focused on structuring itself as an organization; its next board meeting is scheduled for this coming Tuesday. But according to a Cease and Desist letter signed by all three County Commissioners late this afternoon, the organization’s future now appears to be in jeopardy.
“The Beaver County Board of Commissioners writes this letter to inform you that we do not support nor do we condone the recent actions of this Partnership,” wrote Commissioners. “Moreover, we do not concur with the direction in which the Partnership is proceeding.”
The letter does not specify which recent actions of the partnership the Commissioners do not support.
The Commissioners go on to quote a section of the Partnership’s original mission statement, “The group is comprised of a cross-section of Beaver County’s population which seeks to help the County continue to facilitate growth. The Partnership would be a visionary body that strives to develop and present growth strategies along with the County and its agencies […] Recommendations developed by the Partnership should be presented to the Commissioners for concurrence. Any grant funding involved should be funneled through the County. Implementation should occur through existing and approved County or community entities.”
The Cease and Desist letter from the county informs other members of the Partnership of specific demands which must be met for the Board to continue having a relationship with the organization, “While the Board of County Commissioners was in agreement with this original concept, it is apparent that the Partnership has strayed significantly from it. Consequently, the Board of Commissioners insists that the Partnership be restructured so that the Partnership Board members are selected and appointed by the Board of County Commissioners as is done with other boards associated with the County and that it be established as originally intended. In the event that the Partnership does not accept this change, we will direct all County departments and staff to cease all participation in activities of the Partnership immediately. Further, we will notify [the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development] that the County in no way supports the Partnership.”
The letter does not specifically state how the organization has “strayed significantly” from its original mission statement.
Beaver County Chamber of Commerce President Jack Manning, who also serves as a Director for the Partnership, told the Beaver Countian he received a copy of the Cease and Desist letter late this afternoon.
“I thought the Commissioners were on-board and engaged. I read the letter, the Partnership was supposed to have a board meeting on Tuesday, I am clueless about this,” said Manning. “I have no clue what the genesis of this letter is, something must have happened that got them sideways, they haven’t spoken to any of us about this.”
Manning went on to say that he believes the Partnership could function without the Commissioners’ involvement, but stressed that the organization’s purpose was to become a one-stop-shop for economic development in the county.
“Our preference is to have everybody in the tent,” said Manning. “We never wanted to impinge on somebody else’s responsibility. [Beaver County Community and Economic Development] has a role with things like brownfield redevelopment, that’s fine, the Planning & Redevelopment Board have their role and we’re not trying to do their job either, Commissioners have their job, the County Tourism Department has theirs — we’re just trying to get all of these organizations on the same page and aligned together […] I truly have zero insight into what promulgated this, I am thoroughly clueless.”
Sources within county government told the Beaver Countian that private meetings between some Partnership Board members and developers played a role.
The Beaver Countian has obtained copies of minutes from Partnership Board meetings. The documents — marked “Confidential – Internal Use Only” — detail private meetings held by individual members of the Partnership Board that resulted in financial donations being collected by the organization from local developers Pat Nardelli (Castlebrook Development) and CJ Betters (C.J. Betters Enterprises / Bet-Tech Construction), along with Norman Mitry (Heritage Valley). Sources tell the Beaver Countian that monies collected from the local businessmen were to fund a matching grant the organization was seeking to obtain from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development. The minutes note that the organization was seeking to determine if it could apply for the grant directly from the state instead of going through county government.
Other items in the minutes speak of additional organizations which were seeking to become financially involved with the Partnership, “The Beaver County Foundation can provide accounting for this Partnership and can set up a separate fund in their Foundation for our Partnership. They are, however, unable to provide funding from other existing funds to this Partnership.”
The minutes also detail $75 million in loans and grants that may be made available from the state for projects in the region that the Partnership could pursue, “Money is available for projects that ‘have merit.’ The wish list needs to be developed fairly quickly, and there needs to be some detail in order to prepare applications.”
Ironically, the minutes also reveal that Shell Chemical declined an invitation to join the Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic Development.
In its letter to the Partnership, the Board of Commissioners directed the organization to submit documents for its review, including any articles of incorporation, financial statements, details of all funds received and the current location of those funds, and copies of any contracts the organization may have entered into.
“Upon review of these documents and acquiescence therewith, we will appoint members to the Board of the Partnership,” wrote County Commissioners. “Thereafter, we will set a date and time for a meeting. Until then, no further business should be conducted.”
Chamber of Commerce President Jack Manning told the Beaver Countian that the Partnership still intends to hold a meeting of its Board on Tuesday as scheduled. “Although given this letter, I suspect the meeting’s agenda will be changing,” he said.
Beaver County Commissioners declined public comment for this report.