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W-B Controller Raises Concerns Over Sterling Site Development

February 10, 2018
W-B Controller Raises Concerns Over Sterling Site Development
W-B Controller Raises Concerns Over Sterling Site Development

WILKES-BARRE — City Controller Darren Snyder says he doesn’t understand why Mayor Tony George doesn’t want his input on development proposals for the vacant Hotel Sterling site and believes the mayor is violating city code by refusing to allow him oversight.

The mayor, however, says it would be a conflict of interest for Snyder to be involved in the process of choosing a developer.

Snyder told city council Thursday that he learned that a committee comprised of some members of council and the administration and representatives of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce and Diamond City Partnership would be formed to review the two proposals.

“I noticed that the Controller’s Office — the third branch of city government — was not included,” Snyder said.

Snyder said he asked the administration for copies of the proposals and his request was refused.

Snyder cited city code, saying it was the duty of his office “to examine, audit and verify all books, records and accounts” of the city and have access to them “at any time.”

“So, my question is, why would the Controller’s Office not be first asked to be part of this committee to review these proposals, then secondly, when the Controller’s Office asks to review such documents … was refused?

Councilwoman Beth Gilbert asked Administrator Ted Wampole to explain why Snyder was not asked to be on the committee.

“It was our determination that we not include him at this point,” Wampole said. “It’s just a personal preference.”

Wampole said the proposals aren’t public records but would become so after presented to council for a vote.

City Attorney and Deputy Administrator Tim Henry added that he didn’t know if a proposal could be considered a book, record or account.

“Where does it say that that’s excluded from all books, records and accounts at any time?” Snyder asked.

Councilman Mike Merritt asked at what point Snyder would be allowed to review the proposals.

“I mean, he has a background in real estate, and secondly, he could possibly help,” Merritt said.

Snyder is a real estate broker and president of Marilyn K. Snyder Real Estate Inc., has served on the board of directors for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Association of Realtors and the Diamond City Partnership, and is a past president of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association.

Other council members also advocated for Snyder’s inclusion.

Wampole said he would take council’s remarks to the mayor.

On Friday afternoon, Snyder said he had not been contacted by the administration.

“It just doesn’t make any sense — with everything that’s been going on in the area with corruption — why the Mayor’s Office would refuse the request for oversight,” Snyder said.

“It’s my signature that goes on the contract and deed (after a sale of the land and development proposal is approved).” Snyder said. “To deny me access to these proposals and then down the road come to me and ask me to sign off on them is wrong.”

George on Friday said city code “says (the controller) goes over (a proposal) after we choose it. (The proposals) don’t belong to the city yet, they’re still the developers’.”

George also said he thinks it would be “more of a conflict” of interest if Snyder helped choose which proposal the city would accept and then audited the proposal and resulting contract.

The Hotel Sterling, built in 1898 at the corner of North River and West Market streets, was long a downtown fixture. It was demolished in 2013 after unsuccessful efforts to remodel and repurpose it.

The city took over ownership of the site in June 2015. It is being used for parking.

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