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Supervisor grilled on his quarry opinion

September 20, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A St. Thomas Township Supervisor spent several hours on the witness stand Monday, answering questions about his alleged bias against a quarry and concrete plant proposed to be built in the township.

Supervisor Frank Stearn, 60, said he is not biased on the subject of the quarry, but had concerns about it and had asked township residents to become active and informed about the quarry.

Judge Douglas W. Herman heard arguments in the civil suit from Township solicitor John Lisko and from E. Ralph Godfrey, who represented the St. Thomas Development Corp., which proposes a limestone quarry, asphalt and concrete plant along U.S. 30 in St. Thomas.

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Attorney John Broujos of Carlisle, Pa., represented Stearn.

Judge Herman will issue a declaratory judgment to determine whether Stearn may vote on the St. Thomas Development Corp. projects. If the judge allows him to vote, the decision gives Stearn and the township legal backing and removes the fear of litigation. The township initiated the suit.

Several times during questioning of witnesses, Godfrey picked up a yard sign used during Stearn's campaign and asked the witness if it implied that Stearn was against the quarry.

The red-and-white sign read, "No Quarry Frank Stearn for Supervisor."

Godfrey's firm, Salzmann, Hughes and Fishman, sent a letter to the township dated Feb. 18, 2004, demanding that Stearn recuse himself from voting on any matters concerning the St. Thomas Development Corp. because of his alleged bias against them.

Godfrey said St. Thomas Development Corp. owns the land and is entitled to the same rights as other landowners. Township supervisors act in both a legislative and judicial capacity. When voting on issues such as land development plans, they are acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, interpreting existing law.

After supervisors received the letter in February, Lisko raised a concern in executive session with the supervisors about liability issues if Stearn voted on matters concerning the proposed quarry.

"This put the township in a very vulnerable position," Stearn testified. "It was not in the best interest of the township for me to vote. I did not agree to abstain from voting, but I have not voted, understanding the implications as I do."

At the time of his brief write-in campaign in October 2003, Stearn was member of Friends and Residents of St. Thomas (FROST), a citizens' group opposed to the quarry. Stearn said he was more of an observer than an architect of the group. He resigned from the group before taking officer as a supervisor.

"The FROST members were disappointed," Stearn said on the witness stand. "I received criticism for resigning."

The preliminary land development plan for the quarry has been approved by the supervisors, with 15 conditions attached.

"If my client obtains the DEP permit and meets the 15 conditions, are you telling me you would approve the plan?" Godfrey asked Stearn.

"Yes, unless other issues come up," Stearn said. "The board of supervisors would have to decide."

Several character witnesses spoke on Stearn's behalf.

Donald Helfrick, an elected, unpaid auditor for St. Thomas Township, was called as a witness. Helfrick said he was approached by Stearn on election day and was handed a card saying "No Quarry" by the candidate.

"It upset me a little. I believe Mr. Stearn is biased against the quarry," he said.

The trial is scheduled to continue today.

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