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Tax group accuses official of not paying bills at tech center

October 25, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Two members of a taxpayers' group want action taken against Chambersburg School Board member Robert Helman for failing to pay for work done on vehicles and a freezer at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, but Helman, a member of the center's Joint Operating Committee, is calling it a "witch hunt."

On Oct. 6, Chambersburg Area Taxpayers' Association President Carl Barton and Marlin Wagner, both of Chambersburg, filed a Pennsylvania Right to Know request for copies of any unpaid bills for all members of the Joint Operating Committee for the past 10 years, as well as any correspondence from or to the center's auditors "dealing with any of these specific unpaid bills by members of the JOC."

"We asked for all of them, not just Bob Helman's - all unpaid bills," Wagner said Sunday. "This is money the board has to lay out," he said of the unpaid bills.

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James Duffey, the center's director, said Monday he had a bookkeeper at the school review records. Duffey provided Barton and Wagner with copies of six unpaid invoices dating from 1999 to 2004 under the name of Bob Helman or Helman totaling $584.93 for work done on vehicles and a freezer.

"What you've been shown is all we had," Duffey said of the unpaid invoices. Helman was notified of the outstanding bills and paid them on Oct. 13, he said.

Duffey, the center's director for 2 1/2 years, said he had never been contacted by the center's auditors about the unpaid bills. "It did bring up a flaw in our procedures" and the process by which people are billed will be reviewed, he said.

Helman, who represents Region 1 on the Chambersburg School Board, said Monday that only two of the bills totaling $74, one for work on a freezer and the other to replace a blower fan in a vehicle, were his.

"That's the only bills that were actually mine," Helman said. Two other bills, one for $309.20 and another for $29.68, were for repairs to an International dump truck and a 1988 Chevrolet truck that belonged to his father, Robert Helman, who died in June.

Two others, a $147.34 bill to repair a 2000 Honda Prelude and another $29.68 bill for a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee, were for vehicles belonging to his sons. He said he could not remember whether he took all the vehicles in for servicing himself.

"Some of this is the system by which they bill," he said. The invoice for the International truck, he said, had only a last name and no date for when the work was done.

Helman said he had either not received bills for the work or had forgotten about them.

"There was a bill there last fall that belonged to my son," he said. "I asked the instructor what it was for (the amount) and he never got back to me," he said.

"A number of people come up to us to try and correct what they perceive are wrongs in the community," Barton said. That included telephone calls "telling us Bob had not been paying at the vo-tech ... so we requested the unpaid bills to see what we could find," he said.

"We think we shouldn't have the fox guarding the hen house," Barton said of Helman, who has been treasurer for the Joint Operating Committee since 1997. "He's not doing what he's being paid to do."

Barton, who ran unsuccessfully in the May primary for the Region 4 seat on the Chambersburg School Board, said he wants Helman fired as the Joint Operating Committee treasurer. He also said no Chambersburg School Board member had approached him about the unpaid bills.

Helman, who is running for a fourth four-year term, withdrew from the May Democratic primary after Wagner challenged his nomination petition.

Party nominating petitions are to be circulated by a registered party member, according to state election law. Helman's was signed by a registered Democrat but Helman, a registered Republican, admitted he circulated the petition.

In school board races, candidates can run in both primaries. Helman was defeated on the Republican ballot by Paul Ambrose, also a registered Republican, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Helman later announced he is running a write-in campaign for the seat.

"I'd have to find out more about it. I'm not going to pass judgment," Ambrose said when asked about the dispute over the overdue bills.

Helman, who has sided with school board members favoring a $116 million building project for the district, said the issue of the unpaid bills is politically motivated. He said Barton, Wagner and opponents on the school board "want me off the board."

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