The Sentinel: “Residents question whether conflict of interest exists in Cumberland Valley School District’s acquisition of McCormick Farm”
Phyllis Zimmerman for The Sentinel
May 21, 2018
At Monday night’s Cumberland Valley School Board meeting, several residents questioned during a public comment period what they perceive as a conflict of interest regarding a Cumberland Valley School Board member.
Residents referenced a May 18 article published in The Sentinel that said school board member Robert Walker, who voted to use eminent domain to acquire the McCormick Farm, is also an attorney for a developer who may need a right-of-way across the land.
“I, along with many other CV parents, citizens and taxpayers, are deeply concerned about the apparent ongoing undisclosed business relationship between a CV School Board member and Spinnaker Property Management, owner of a developmental parcel adjacent to the McCormick Farm,” said Tracy Aichele of Monroe Township.
The district is in legal proceedings to condemn 108 acres of the 116-acre historic McCormick Farm tract in Silver Spring Township, now zoned as agricultural preserve. The property, which borders Carlisle Pike in Silver Spring Township around Hogestown, is listed for sale by a real estate firm for $1.6 million.
The district has stated that it wants to obtain the land for building future school facilities that would accommodate Cumberland Valley’s burgeoning enrollment. However, the eminent domain action also would allow for potential access roads to the new Grayhawk Landing housing development.
Grayhawk Landing is a project of developer Jeff Taylor of Spinnaker Property Management of Camp Hill. One of Taylor’s attorneys is Robert Walker, the CV school board member who, on Jan. 22, made the motion for Cumberland Valley School District to file eminent domain proceedings on the McCormick property. Walker did not abstain from the vote, and voted in favor of the acquisition.
“Condemning the McCormick Farm through eminent domain is the only way this access road can be built. … If this (board decision) was driven by a member with a documented ongoing business relationship with Spinnaker Property, perhaps it would be best to reconsider,” Aichele said.
“I will tell you that we have no plans to put an access road on that property,” school board president Michael Gossert told residents.
District solicitor Michael Cassidy told the audience that after reviewing the matter, “I am not aware of any facts that would constitute a violation of the State Ethics Act.”
The Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Law was enacted in 1978 and amended in 1989 and 1998 “to define restricted activities in which public officials and public employees may not participate,” according to state documents. The act also initiated the State Ethics Commission that oversees related matters.
“(The State Ethics Act) recognizes that elected officials are members of the community who sometimes conduct business in the community. As such, the State Ethics Act provides very specific definitions of what constitutes a conflict of interest.” Cassidy said.
Walker didn’t speak about the matter during Tuesday’s school board meeting. He previously declined from publicly commenting on the matter due to pending litigation, he said.
The school district has scheduled a public meeting about the McCormick Farm acquisition for 6 p.m. Thursday at Cumberland Valley High School’s performing arts center.