Bellefonte Borough Manager Ralph Stewart recently expressed confidence in having met all the requirements of the conservatorship act in selling the Garman Theatre.
Although this claim is debatable, what’s clear to me is that the deal didn’t meet the requirements of the Pennsylvania Borough Code.
The code clearly states that real estate sales exceeding $1,500 in value must be advertised and bids must be solicited. This simple requirement is a critical safeguard for taxpayers and only hinders those trying to abuse the system.
But although many parties were interested in the Garman property, the borough quietly worked out an unadvertised, no-bid deal with a single developer.
Contracts were drafted, a nominal price was set, architectural plans were drawn and, as far back as a year ago, Stewart announced that a deal was in place.
Some have criticized preservationists for what they see as sitting on the sidelines until the 11th hour. I think it’s more accurate to say that they — and the rest of the public — were kept in the dark until the truth slipped out.
I’ve no doubt that those who orchestrated and profited from this deal can find some creative explanation as to why the rules don’t apply to them. But claiming this transaction was “not technically illegal” would be cold comfort to the many Bellefonte residents who now drive by a demolished town square every day.
Bellefonte Borough Council must take immediate action to ensure this type of abuse never occurs again.
Bellefonte deserves better.
Patrick North, Bellefonte