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Source: Chestnut Hill Local
Date: March 31, 2005
Byline: Michael J. Mishak

Committee chair resigns over conflict charge

The move comes on the heels of a public quarrel with township officials over the Black Horse Inn restoration

The ongoing effort to restore the embattled Black Horse Inn took a dramatic turn last week when the chairman of an advisory board overseeing the project resigned at a public meeting.

Scott Kreilick, who has served as chair Springfield Township's Black Horse Inn advisory committee, tendered his resignation at the group's monthly meeting on March 22.

Reading from a prepared statement, Kreilick said board president Glenn Schaum had contacted him via telephone on March 20, informing him of the board's vote earlier that month to ask him to step down from his leadership role.

According to commissioner Robert Gillies, who serves as the advisory committee's board liaison, the decision was made in an executive session on March 7. Gillies said the board's unanimous vote for Kreilick's dismissal was based on his interest as a potential tenant, which commissioners deemed a conflict of interest.

Kreilick was one of six parties who had previously expressed an interest in securing office space in the Black Horse Inn. He owns and operates a for-profit conservation business.

Gillies offered no reason for the two-week delay in notification.

Tension had surfaced during last month's advisory committee meeting when the issue of contractor qualifications dominated much of the discussion. Kreilick stood alone in the belief that contractors should conform to the specifications outlined in plans designed by the Kise, Straw and Kolodner architectural firm. Township officials pushed to ease the standard for contractors willing to volunteer or offer services at a discount rate.

Though the committee unanimously approved a contractor evaluation process, Kreilick said he was still seen by some as holding up progress.

"I don't view myself as an obstructionist," he said in an interview. "I was trying to hold the township to a higher standard. I'm not going to compromise my integrity to achieve the lowest common denominator."

"This is a defining moment in the history of the township," he said. "I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful they can complete the project to an acceptable standard that will still place it on the historic register."

Though some criticized the board for holding a closed-door meeting, it was within its rights to discuss the issue as a "personnel" matter under the state's Sunshine Act. The law, which requires public agencies to take official action and conduct deliberations at public meetings, provides for few exceptions, but allows officials to meet behind closed doors to "discuss any matter involving the employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of performance, promotion or disciplining of any public officer or employee — employed or appointed by the agency."

Many, including members of the advisory committee, took issue with the board's action.

Kreilick's departure stunned committee member William Mebane, who said he had first learned of the board's decision hours earlier. "I looked to [Kreilick] for credibility, leadership and trust," he said. "We selected him. This is going to be a heck of a setback."

The board also rankled members of the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike. "We haven't seen any commitment from the commissioners," said Don Mitchell, who heads the Friends' public relations subcommittee. "Why are we working our butts off and then you turn around and do this? How are we supposed to move forward?"

Barbara Sherf, chair of the Friends' use subcommittee, asked Gillies if Kreilick had been given the option of removing his bid as a potential tenant. Gillies said the option had not been discussed.

"You're going to have a tough time finding somebody who wouldn't have a conflict of interest," said Edward Zwicker, president of the Springfield Township Historical Society. "There's so much cross pollination in a small township."

Zwicker later said the board's action resulted in a "huge blow to the project."

Marilyn Drinker, a township resident, lambasted the board of commissioners. "I can't believe what you people have done," said Drinker, who had intended to contribute to the fundraising effort but declined after learning of the board's action. "I can't be a lady and talk about this."

As criticism mounted, Gillies attempted to change the subject. "I'd like to see the meeting progress," he said.

Jane Roberts, a former township commissioner, called for solidarity among volunteers. "We're going to stick together and get the Black Horse fixed," Roberts said. "We're not going to let [the board] do this."

While Andrew Glendinning, chair of the Friends' construction committee, agreed with the board's decision, he took issue with what he called the "hasty" and "impersonal" manner in which it was handled.

"The commissioners need to be on the moral high ground," said volunteer Jennifer French. "We're volunteers. You have to consider that we're doing this in our spare time and we won't do it if we don't have the support."