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Minority Members of Council Rock School Board Cry Foul Over Solicitor Change

Bucks County Republicans understand the new Democratic majority on the Council Rock School Board has the power to hire a new district law firm. They were just surprised Democrats didn’t wait until being sworn in to get started.

The five Democrats who make up the majority after November’s election met privately — after three of the members had been elected but not yet sworn in — to pick a new district solicitor. And their choice was the prominent Democratic law firm, Rudolph Clarke.

That information was the center of a fiery discussion during the Jan. 18 board meeting. Michael Clarke, whose firm was hired in a 5-4 vote at that meeting, joined the board after the vote to insist the Democrats had done nothing wrong.

According to the news outlet Broad + Liberty, Clarke describes himself as a “good Democrat,” and he does a lot of business with Democrats in state and local government.

“Rudolph Clarke retains three Montgomery County state legislators, including House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, a Bucks County state senator and Democratic Party chairman, and, until recently, former Delaware County state representative Mike Zabel, who resigned earlier this year amid sexual harassment allegations,” the news site reported. “The firm is a major contributor to Montgomery County Democrats’ campaigns at the state and local levels and has demonstrated particular expertise in flipping local boards to Democratic control over the past several election cycles.”

State Sen. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks), who chairs the Bucks County Democratic Party, is of counsel at Rudolph Clarke.

The law firm and its attorneys regularly contribute to Democratic candidates, and the firm made donations to candidates for the Council Rock School Board.

“Receiving political contributions from someone you eventually hire does not create a conflict of interest,” Clarke said.

The four Republican board members, who abstained because they said they were not told about the move to change the solicitor until the Friday before the meeting, had their votes switched to ‘no’ once Clarke came in. He said they could not abstain on the matter.

Board President Yota Palli tried several times to cut off questions from the GOP minority and call the vote on the new solicitor.

“My question is, who was involved in the conversation with Rudolph Clarke? How did this come about?” asked board member Bob Hickey. “Somehow, someone decided. Who? We obviously did not talk about one of the largest vendors being changed.”

Hickey added, “I was not included. I don’t know if anybody else was. At least four of us weren’t aware of it.”

Board Member Joseph Hildago said they usually would discuss something like this in committee, and there would be requests for proposals.

“The five of you met,” said Hildago. “You did not disclose it until last Friday. That was the first any one of us got a whiff you were doing this.”

Palli said Republicans were not included in her “shared vision” discussion with the newly elected but unsworn members. However, she told the disgruntled Republicans they had been given plenty of time to vet the law firm. “It is uncomfortable not to be in the majority,” she told the four dissenting members several times.

“As with judges, this is supposed to be an apolitical position,” Republican Board Member Michael Roosevelt said of the legal council job. “Our relationship with Eastburn and Gray has gone on for 40 years. I don’t think this is a big deal to have a discussion about the agenda. There are a lot of questions that haven’t been addressed. Timeline. Procedures.”

Clarke said his firm would charge the same rates as the previous solicitor so the district would not incur additional expenses. However, because the business office could not find a letter of intent from Eastburn and Gray, they are figuring out what the rates were from bills.

A spokesperson for the district did not respond when asked how much it paid its solicitor in 2023.

However, a long-time school district solicitor who represents several Delaware Valley school districts told DVJournal on background that for a district without significant problems, the fees, including a retainer and $200 for hourly work, would likely run to $200,000 a year. Legal representation for special education, labor, construction, and bonds would be at a higher rate and are often handled by a different firm.

As for the board changing its solicitor, he said, “You need to trust your lawyer.”

During public comment, resident Jonathan Simmons questioned why the board chose Rudolph Clarke.

“This new board majority that everyone seems so enamored with, they labeled themselves ‘Together for Council Rock’ for the last year or so. I think they should have probably called themselves ‘Together for the Bucks County Democratic Party,’” said Simmons.

“I think you owe the community an explanation about how this firm was selected. Did it have political overtones or undertones? Were bids solicited?

“And finally, was the sole consideration just to give the business to the guy whose firm runs the Democratic Party in Bucks County? I think you need to answer those questions,” Simmons added.


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WALKER: New Central Bucks Board’s Wrongheaded Hires

At the January 11, 2024, Central Bucks board meeting, the Democrat majority representatives hired James Scanlan, Ed.D., as interim superintendent for $1,713.15 a day. That equates to almost $35,000.00 a month or a yearly salary of over $400,000 a year. Plus, he’s reimbursed for travel, tolls, parking, and any out-of-pocket expenses while doing his job. No financial cap was put on these expenses.

The Bucks County Intermediate Unit, led by Mark Hoffman, created this contract and charged our district $363.15 per day for Dr. Scanlon. These numbers are unprecedented. The local media spent months criticizing Dr. Abe Lucabaugh’s $315,000 a year salary as a permanent superintendent, which was significantly less money.

Assistant Superintendent Chuck Malone Ed.D. agreed to serve and was approved as Interim Superintendent at the November 2023 board meeting for an additional $6,500.00 a month until a new superintendent is found. This is the practice used for all previous interim superintendents.

Never has a board hired an out-of-district interim superintendent. I have not seen any criticism about this outrageous expenditure in the media. Unfortunately, this highlights the bias of local media. When the Republicans were in the majority, their criticism was nonstop. And these sky-high salaries show how misinformed the current board majority is.

The next poor hire was David Conn, who was board solicitor from Sweet Stevens Katz & Williams. Mr. Conn is married to a member of our community who is part of the ACLU investigation.

A few months ago, all judges in Bucks County voluntarily recused themselves from ruling on the district’s new voting maps because one judge’s wife works for our district. Clearly, with that mindset, hiring Mr. Conn is a conflict of interest.  The Democratic majority,  led by Karen Smith, didn’t think so. They have a specific agenda to follow.

Mr. Conn gave an incorrect, unsolicited legal opinion in July 2021 to keep children masked in school. This “legal advice” was proven incorrect by the Supreme Court when the justices found the mask mandate illegal. This poor advice shows his poor judgment.

On a personal note, Mr. Conn put in right to know requests about me and another mother in the district. The other mother and I are not politicians or looking to be employed by Central Bucks, so it was an extraordinary thing to do.

I emailed the board to let them know my concerns. Unfortunately, Democrats didn’t seem to care about my worries, which was expected. I hope he doesn’t request information about my children, who are all Central Bucks students. I do not trust him. I have no idea what he will do. It’s not a great feeling.

We moved here for the schools, like so many other people.

In the last election, Philadelphia Democrats flooded the Bucks County Democrats’ PACs with money to pay for commercials for school board candidates.

They endorsed and supported anyone for this election if they had a “D” next to their name. Republican school board candidates don’t have a shot with the current system.  It’s not a level playing field.  I just hope the district stays a top educational institution, but looking at who influences the Democrats, I don’t have much hope.

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Lower Makefield Misses RTK Date for Flood Victims

The Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed at its Sept. 6 meeting to preclude Joseph Kahn, the former Bucks County solicitor, from taking part or advising the lawyer handling the township’s right-to-know (RTK) requests.

The move came after resident Tim Daly pointed out that Kahn had been in charge of the cases against mothers Jamie Walker and Megan Brock. The women had filed right-to-know requests trying to find out why the county suddenly overrode COVID-19 guidance for schools that Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker had issued. Damsker supported less restrictive policies than those the former Gov. Tom Wolf administration advocated. Damsker was overruled by Bucks County officials who imposed stricter masking, lockdowns, and vaccinations.

The state Office of Open Records ordered the county to turn over those records to Brock and Walker. But the county, with Kahn as its solicitor, sued the women to prevent their access to the county commissioners’ emails.

Good government watchdog group Judicial Watch has now stepped in to assist Brock and Walker with the ongoing litigation.

Kahn, a Democrat who is running for state attorney general, was in charge of the litigation for the county. He is now a partner with Curtain Heefner, the law firm addressing the Lower Makefield residents’ RTK requests after township solicitor David Truelove determined his firm had a conflict of interest.

Now, several residents have filed right-to-know requests with Lower Makefield to find out about earlier township decisions that may have precipitated the disastrous flooding that occurred on July 15 in the township’s Maplevale neighborhood.

Daly, who helped Brock and Walker with their RTKs and is now assisting the Maplevale residents, asked supervisors why Truelove and his firm, Hill Wallack, were not handling the RTKs.

“I don’t understand why he’s been benched,” said Daly, adding that it gave Curtain and Heeefner an “unbelievable gift.”

Truelove told him it was appropriate, and the lawyer working on the RTKs, Sarah Steers, has much experience as a former assistant city solicitor in Pittsburgh.

However, Steers asked for a 30-day extension on the township’s behalf, then did not produce the documents on time.

“The response is eerily similar to what Mr. Kahn did to Jamie Walker and Megan Brock, which is now an embroiled controversy here in our county, for which Judicial Watch has now picked up all seven lawsuits because of the misconduct of Joe Kahn,” said Daly.

Kahn “pulled a fast one on Miss Brock and Miss Walker by getting them to agree to a 30-day extension, just like Miss Steers tried to do to (Lower Makefield resident) Mr. (Robert) Abrams. As a result of that, they lost their right to appeal.”

“I don’t think you want to do this to the Maplevale people, that you make them wait another 60 days. I know Mr. Adams has the exact same problem,” he said.

“So, we have three RTKs, now with no responses. They’re five to eight days behind in violation of the RTK law, and when you don’t deliver on the 30th day after you get the extension, (the township doesn’t) have a legal right to ask for (another) extension,” said Daly.

In a letter to Abrams, Steers said the township would comply “on or before Sept. 5.” It did not.

“They (the township) have to go to the Open Records Office. They have to prove that they actually need more time. And then, they’ll be granted it,” said Daly.

“What Mr. Kahn did, they gave him the initial 30 days, he extended it out another 30, then denied. Denied everything. He knew that on day five. It was just a game,” said Daly.

“And then Mr. Kahn had a big loss on his hands because they resubmitted all seven of these RTKs, and I assisted them in their appeals, and I won all seven against Mr. Kahn,” Daly said.

Khan did not respond to requests for comment.

Township Manager David Kratzer said a few people are filing several RTKs a day, and it costs the township thousands in legal fees to comply with those requests.

Abrams told the board he received a reply referring to him as Adams, another resident involved in filing RTKs in response to the flooding.

Daly said in a letter to Kratzer, “You will also see a range of typos and errors in the responses where your staff placed incorrect names, email addresses, and home addresses. In short, errors in handling all over the place from the law firm to your staff.”

As of Sept. 8, the township, through Steers, had not turned the records over to the Maplevale residents, Daly said. So, the residents filed appeals.

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Chester County Commissioners Appoint New Solicitor

From a press release

The Chester County Commissioners approved this week the appointment of Colleen Frens as Solicitor for the County of Chester. Frens, the former deputy county solicitor, has served as acting solicitor since July 2022, following the appointment of former solicitor, Nicole Forzato, to the bench of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.

“Colleen is an excellent lawyer who will serve the County well in handling our legal matters,”said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “We are fortunate to have someone who is not only personable, but who understands how County government operates, aswell as the mission, purpose and responsibilities of all our departments.”

As solicitor for Chester County, Frens will provide legal counsel and opinions relative to county government operational and administrative matters, and will oversee the county’s team of lawyers.

Commissioner Josh Maxwell said, “The county solicitor position requires someone who knowshow to navigate the legal world and the business and government worlds. Colleen’s resume dovetails perfectly with those needs, which makes me confident that she is the right person for this critical job.”

Frens joined the county as assistant county solicitor in April 2021 and was named deputy county solicitor in July 2022. Prior to that, she worked as a Chester County public defender, and as an associate for Lamb McErlane PC. Frens also gained legal experience in the Office of the Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor. She is a graduate of Temple University Beasley School of Law and has coached Temple’s School of Law National Trial Team.

Commissioner Michelle Kichline noted, “As a fellow graduate of Temple’s Beasley School of Law, I couldn’t be more pleased that Colleen is Chester County’s new county solicitor. She has extensive credentials essential to being the top legal counsel for the county. The county is in good hands under her legal stewardship.”

Frens lives in West Chester with her family. She enjoys cooking, hiking, and photography.