After mounting criticism from a handful of business owners and residents and months of contentious public meetings about the borough’s finances, Blawnox Borough Council voted Thursday night to terminate its contract with its longtime borough manager.
Reached Friday afternoon, Councilman Denny Chuvala would not say why the council voted to end the contract with Sherry Kordas, who was been working in Blawnox since 1996, first as an employee of Resource Development and Management Inc., a Wilkinsburg-based government consulting firm, then hired in her own right as the full-time borough manager in 2008.
“That’s confidential right now,” Mr. Chuvala said, referring questions on the contract termination to Blawnox solicitor Jack Cambest, who could not be reached Friday afternoon. “That’s going to be a tough thing to get over but we will.”
Attempts to reach Mrs. Kordas, Mayor Anthony Gross and four other council members were unsuccessful.
The abrupt severance, however, comes after months of relentless questioning and public-records requests from Ingeburg Miller, who lives in O’Hara but owns an antique shop on Freeport Road in Blawnox, and a string of uncomfortable meetings on the borough’s struggles to pay bills on time and other financial issues.
“I’d like you to face the problem. It’s time to stop the ostrich politics: bury the head in the sand and let the good lord take care of it,” Mrs. Miller, 75, told the council and mayor during a meeting last month.
A persistent, vociferous and sometimes abrasive critic of Mrs. Kordas, Mr. Cambest and council members, Mrs. Miller and a few other regulars at the council meeting are convinced Blawnox is running out of money. Mrs. Miller has launched an avalanche of right-to-know requests to back up her claims.
“I’d like to get answers,” she said. “All my savings are in my business. I don’t want Blawnox to go into bankruptcy. If I want to sell my building, who would buy it?”
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Mr. Cambest, Mr. Gross and several council members said in meetings and in interviews that Blawnox is on solid financial ground despite the late payments, its regular shuffling of money between various accounts to shore up balances and make payroll and the use of a big piece of its 2014 tax-anticipation loan to pay the balance of the previous year’s loan, a move the mayor acknowledged was “foolish” but necessary.
One of Mrs. Miller’s right-to-know requests last year also revealed that Allegheny Valley Bank, long believed by borough officials and council members to be acting as the borough treasurer, denied that it held that job.
“The borough is not in municipal bankruptcy,” Mr. Cambest said at an April meeting in response to a direct question on the issue. “It’s not even close to municipal bankruptcy.”
In a previous interviews, Mrs. Kordas acknowledged that money was scarce and council members agreed the financial ship needed righting, though they maintained Blawnox is solvent. Mr. Cambest, whose firm represents numerous municipalities, characterized Blawnox‘s troubles as similar to other small struggling boroughs and townships.
“Things are tight without a doubt,” said Mrs. Kordas, who added that she forwent a $3,000 raise this year. “Are we making payroll? We’re making payroll. We’re making our bank payments.”
Other payments, however, have lapsed.
Until very recently, Blawnox had not paid its bill to the Fox Chapel Water Authority on time since August of 2012, racking up 5 percent penalties every month, according to records from the authority, which indicate Blawnox has paid the authority just under $12,000 in late fees since 2007.
“We are working on getting bills paid on a timely basis,” said first-term Councilwoman Patricia Bucha in an interview last month. Mrs. Bucha is also the wife of the borough police chief. “We’re not running out of money. We’re not at that point yet. They don’t understand you have to wait for taxes to come in and things like that to pay things.”
For years, Mrs. Miller says, she was told Allegheny Valley Bank was the borough treasurer, which proved to be otherwise when she requested a copy of the treasurer’s bond.
In a September email to Mrs. Kordas, Susan DeLuca, a senior vice president at the bank, wrote that “no one here, including our president, knows anything about [Allegheny Valley Bank] acting as treasurer, nor would we agree to such an arrangement. I didn’t even know an entity can be a treasurer. I thought it is an officer position. As such, we do not have a surety bond to handle the borough’s money.”
Mrs. Kordas said the email came as a shock.
“My response was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” she said. Blawnox has since begun shifting all of its accounts to Northwest Savings Bank.
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo.