Every local authority and nonprofit board should be taking action to protect themselves and their members in response to the news that the former head of the Cambria County War Memorial Arena Authority was fined for ethics violations.
The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission announced Nov. 7 that Dean Gindlesperger, the past chairman of the War Memorial authority board, violated the state’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Act by accepting payment for storage of arena items and for approving a contract for a scoreboard with a company in which his son had an ownership stake.
Gindlesperger said he didn’t know any better.
We believe anyone who serves on a committee, authority or board of directors must know better – and the organizations with which they work must make sure they have ethics policies in place and clearly communicate those guidelines to anyone who signs up to help make important decisions that involve money or influence.
The War Memorial is owned by a government entity – Cambria County – and run by a private corporation, SMG.
In a meeting Thursday with The Tribune-Democrat, Gindlesperger said: “I want people to learn from my situation.”
So do we.
He added: “People don’t know these rules. They don’t know them.”
That’s a terrifying statement that must be addressed immediately.
Fundamentally, an individual should not profit directly or indirectly from decisions made on behalf of a public or nonprofit organization for which that individual has the responsibility of voting on contracts or expenditures.
The problems that can result are why government boards must vote at public meetings and are required to get bids for taxpayer-funded projects through a competitive and open process.
The ethics commission’s findings included:
• That Gindlesperger supported a decision to award to Amphype Signs – which is partially owned by his son, Ryan Gindlesperger – a $130,000 contract for the 2016 installation of a new scoreboard at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.
In a statement after the ethics ruling, Gindlesperger said: “I received no money related to the scoreboard. I did not know my adult son was affiliated with the company that sold the scoreboard. In the resolution with the Ethics Commission, I refused to admit any wrongdoing or pay any fine related to the scoreboard.”
• That a company Gindlesperger runs, Allegheny Field Services, received $600 per month from SMG for the storage of glycol for the arena’s ice rink, and later for storing other arena supplies.
Gindlesperger said the storage decision was a spur-of-the-moment move to get the potentially unsafe material out of the public arena and into a place where it could be preserved for future use, and that his expenses far exceeded what he was paid. He told us: “The taxpayers got a good deal there.”
His statement said: “Because I now understand that the agreement to warehouse was in violation of the rules, I have agreed to forfeit any funds my business received for the warehousing. Had I been advised of the impropriety of this lease, I never would have entered it or continued it.”
As our Mark Pesto reported, Gindlesperger was directed to pay the state $1,000 per month for 18 months, and also to pay $2,000 to the ethics commission to offset some of its costs from the investigation.
Gindlesperger reiterated to us his contention that he didn’t know his son was involved with the company that sold the scoreboard to the arena.
We expressed our views that we couldn’t imagine that a father and son could be as close as Dean Gindlesperger said he and Ryan Gindlesperger were – playing golf and getting together often – and one not know about local business dealings of the other.
Regardless, we believe anyone tempted to make a decision from which he or she would or could make money – even below the market rate – on behalf of a public entity or nonprofit should sense that such dealings are not appropriate.
These are, we believe, clear “red-flag” moments.
Gindlesperger said: “In hindsight, I see it pointed out to me that mistakes were made in the process.”
Indeed, mistakes were made by Gindlesperger and people around him.
President Commissioner Tom Chernisky said authorities – such as those overseeing the airport and public transportation – are considered separate from county government, and each has its own solicitor for legal or ethical situations and makes its own decisions concerning rules and policies.
Given the stumblings at the arena, that might not be good enough.
The Cambria commissioners should require ethics training for all members of county-related boards and authorities, should require that ethics policies be in place for those entities and that all volunteers sign off on those policies.
Local public and nonprofit agencies that don’t already have such guidelines in place – and many do – should recognize the importance of ethics policies and training, and should move quickly to adopt and share those important documents.