Official meeting minutes from a Commissioners’ public work session held earlier this year materially misstate a question asked by the Beaver Countian and an answer given by Commissioner Tony Amadio related to former County Solicitor Joseph Askar. County records show the meeting minutes were altered with additional misinformation after first being distributed — all three County Commissioners say they had no knowledge the records were changed and officials are now investigating who may be responsible.
The county’s production of public records containing an inaccurate summary of work session proceedings came after an investigation by the Beaver Countian first revealed back in June that attorney Joseph Askar had represented the new corporate owners of Friendship Ridge while still working as Chief County Solicitor. Commissioner Sandie Egley made a formal request to state officials in September that an investigation be conducted to determine whether Askar violated the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Responsibility. Askar insists there was nothing improper about his dealings with the company.
The Beaver Countian first became aware of meeting minutes containing a false characterization of its questioning of Commissioner Tony Amadio this week when it received a copy of all minutes for 2017. The minutes were obtained in response to a Right-To-Know request made by the Beaver Countian back on September 20th — the county had invoked a 30-day extension before answering the request.
During the public work session held on May 31st, the Beaver Countian asked about legal work performed by then-Chief County Solicitor Joseph Askar for the new corporate owners of Friendship Ridge. Questioning by the Beaver Countian followed questions by a member of the public about a fundraiser for Governor Wolf held at Friendship Ridge just days before the meeting — Commissioner Tony Amadio was one of the named hosts of the event along with former County Solicitor Joe Askar.
The following is a transcript of the exchange as taken from an audio recording made at the time by the Beaver Countian:
John Paul: “County Solicitor Joseph Askar oversaw the sale of Friendship Ridge, he was also the one who organized that event up at Friendship Ridge recently. I received documentation from the state that shows that Solicitor Joseph Askar, while still County Solicitor, represented Friendship Ridge following the sale, to collect monies that would have been owed to the County had they not been negotiated away during the sale. Are you aware that Joseph Askar represented Friendship Ridge while still County Solicitor and did you approve it?”
Commissioner Amadio: “I have no knowledge of that. Prior to the sale?”
John Paul: “No, after the sale but while still County Solicitor.”
Commissioner Amadio: “No, not while he was County Solicitor.”
John Paul: “So you have no knowledge of that?”
John Paul: “Ok, thank you.”
The Beaver Countian included Amadio’s answer as part of the investigative report it ran on June 2nd, titled, “Former Chief County Solicitor Represented New Friendship Ridge Owners While Still Employed By The County.”
Here is how the May 31st exchange between the Beaver Countian and Commissioner Amadio appeared in the county’s official meeting minutes provided in response to the open records request:
“The former County Solicitor Joseph Askar oversaw the sale of Friendship Ridge, who recently oversaw a fundraiser there. JP received documentation from the state that Joseph Askar, while still county solicitor, represented Friendship Ridge. To the Commissioners – were you aware of this fundraiser that took place after the sale and while he was still county solicitor, and did you approve it? Commissioner Amadio stated he had no knowledge. Correction – Commissioner Amadio stated that he was not aware of the fundraiser.”
Rather than correctly reflecting that the Beaver Countian asked Commissioner Amadio if he had been aware attorney Joseph Askar represented Friendship Ridge while still serving as the county’s attorney, the minutes falsely state the Beaver Countian asked if Amadio was aware of a fundraiser held at the facility.
Whether then-Solicitor Joseph Askar had approval of Commissioner Tony Amadio to represent the new corporate owners of Friendship Ridge — rather than performing the legal work without the Board’s prior knowledge and consent — could potentially become an issue given Commissioner Egley’s request to have an investigation conducted into the matter.
Meeting minutes are considered the official record of public business discussions by county officials.
The Beaver Countian obtained a copy of the original public work session minutes for May 31st as provided to Commissioners at the time. The meeting minutes were produced by the Chief County Clerk and distributed in early June — the minutes are not consistent with the ones provided to the Beaver Countian this week in response to its Right-To-Know request. Not appearing in the original meeting minutes is the line: “Correction – Commissioner Amadio stated that he was not aware of the fundraiser.”
The Beaver Countian raised concerns with the county that its questioning had been mischaracterized in the meeting minutes and that the minutes provided in response its Right-To-Know request were different than the original documents.
Commissioner Sandie Egley confirmed that the minutes did not accurately reflect the Beaver Countian’s questioning of Amadio and that they were different from the original copy she had been given.
“I was unaware there was an alteration to the meeting minutes,” said Commissioner Sandie Egley. “The minutes that the Beaver Countian received from its Right-To-Know request are different than the ones I had originally received from the Chief Clerk […] The questions that the Beaver Countian asked of Commissioner Amadio were misconstrued and that concerns me.”
Commissioners Egley said she began researching the issue after being asked about the matter.
“I asked the Chief Clerk to show me the hard file of the meeting minutes that she types, she pulled those and gave them to me,” said Egley. “It showed no added correction noted. I asked her if she made any alterations after I saw the minutes and she said that she did not and said she was surprised by the added text […] No one should be changing work session meeting minutes but the Chief County Clerk.”
Commissioner Dan Camp also said he was unaware that alterations had been made to the public record, “I had no knowledge of the minutes being changed. I certainly didn’t change it or ask for it to be changed.”
Commissioner Tony Amadio said he agrees that the minutes are a false characterization of the Beaver Countian’s questions and his answers during the May 31st meeting, and that he did not ask for the “correction” to be added.
“I had no prior knowledge of [Joe Askar] representing Comprehensive,” said Commissioner Amadio. “What I remember is, I said I had no prior knowledge of that, and that was what [the minutes] should say.”
Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services is the private corporation that purchased Friendship Ridge from the county.
Commissioner Egley said the issue is significant because the Board of Commissioners had not voted to approve any of the weekly minutes from 2017 until after the Beaver Countian made its Right-To-Know request for the records in late September. New copies of the minutes from the year were provided to the Board by the County Law Department prior to a vote being taken this month to ratify them. Commissioners Camp and Egley both said that since they review the minutes each week when they are initially distributed — and had not been notified of subsequent alterations — they did not review the minutes in exhaustive detail again before voting to approve them.
Chief County Clerk Cynthia Cook, who also serves as Administrative Assistant to Commissioner Sandie Egley, confirmed to the Beaver Countian that she was not the one who added the “correction” to the meeting minutes. Tony Caltury, Administrative Assistant to Commissioner Dan Camp, told the Beaver Countian that he was not the one who altered the public record. Nicole Long, Administrative Assistant to Commissioner Tony Amadio, also confirmed to the Beaver Countian that she did not add the “correction” to the meeting minutes.
County officials say they do not know who altered the public record, or why, but are continuing to investigate the matter.
Listen to the Beaver Countian’s John Paul question Commissioner Tony Amadio about Joe Askar in this clip from the May 31st public work session: