Corruption probe not a block to this Cinnaminson honor

Posted: May 17, 2012

If Cinnaminson had a navy, the admirals would boast about winning medals even as crew members got tossed in the brig.

Amid a corruption probe that led to the arrests of a supervisor and assistant supervisor of the township Sewerage Authority, five other employees and three private citizens, the authority’s board of commissioners received and eagerly announced a “Wave Achievement Award” from the statewide Association of Environmental Authorities.

The commissioners “demonstrated high standards of responsibility and concern for the public good,” the 90-member professional association proclaimed in an accolade-laden news release, which the authority is promoting with an effusive release of its own.

Commissioner Thomas Kollar and administrator Cindy Doerr brought the honor home from the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, which hosted the association’s annual awards luncheon April 25.

Just six days earlier, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office announced the latest arrests stemming from a months-long investigation of conspiracy, theft of equipment, theft of services, and related offenses within the authority, which employs about a dozen people.

In one instance, authorities say, two employees ran a private sewer maintenance business using authority equipment and supplies — including a 55-gallon drum of chemicals worth $1,800. Two other suspects took an authority backhoe to rural Pennsylvania; others submitted phony invoices and used public money for personal shopping.

The goodies included high-end accessories for recreational vehicles, gas grills, TVs, and even vacuum cleaners, a spree of greed that cost authority customers $44,000.

The suspects, who are free on bail or their own recognizance, “illegally helped themselves at [public] expense,” county Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi said in an earlier statement. “The abuse of the public’s trust was criminal.”

Cinnaminson detectives also are investigating, and township public safety director Michael P. King declined to comment on the award. “We didn’t know they had been nominated,” he said.

“The award was for the board, not the people who broke the law. I hope you’ll be fair about what we were trying to do,” said Peggy Gallos, the association’s executive director.

Other recipients included the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, for best management practices, and the Cape May MUA’s creative recycling contest.

The Wave awards are a special recognition. Three were given this year. Gallos said the association nominated Cinnaminson for one because “they did the right thing” upon learning of the potential wrongdoing.

“They alerted the authorities,” she said. “They cooperated.”

True enough.

But isn’t that the least we should expect from our public servants?

“When people do the right thing,” Gallos insisted, “they deserve a pat on the back.”

No worries; the authority is busy doing that. Making the association’s fulsome praise seem ... restrained, the Cinnaminson board lauds its practice of “zero tolerance” and “exposing and combating employee wrongdoing.”

The authority’s news release also gives props to the association.

“They’re like the League of Municipalities for authorities, so it’s quite humbling,” Kollar, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, is quoted as saying. “It motivates us to continue fighting for the public in everything we do.”

The noble aspirations of those at the top notwithstanding, seven full or part-time workers in the small operation the board oversees are accused of having quite a little operation of their own.

The authority was, however, “very cooperative” with the investigation, public safety chief King said.

“In no way did they attempt to hinder us. They produced any documents we asked of them.”

For which I don’t believe the commissioners deserve an award, but since they’ve got one, perhaps they will share it with the detectives and county prosecutors.

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists’ blog, “Blinq,” at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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