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Sites unsure whether he will run for council; Woodworth criticizes his 'yes' vote in Suez lease

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/24/19

Former Middletown Borough Council member Scott Sites is waiting for results of the May 21 primary to become official before saying if he is a candidate for election to council this …

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Sites unsure whether he will run for council; Woodworth criticizes his 'yes' vote in Suez lease

Scott Sites helps out during Middletown Communities That Care's first Community Clean-Up Day on May 4. Sites formerly served on Middletown Borough Council and appears to have earned enough write-in votes to be on the ballot as a Republican in November.
Scott Sites helps out during Middletown Communities That Care's first Community Clean-Up Day on May 4. Sites formerly served on Middletown Borough Council and appears to have earned enough write-in votes to be on the ballot as a Republican in November.
phyllis zimmerman
Posted

Former Middletown Borough Council member Scott Sites is waiting for results of the May 21 primary to become official before saying if he is a candidate for election to council this year.

Meanwhile, the race to be the fourth Democratic candidate on the November ballot has a difference of only one vote.

Unofficial results show that in a battle of two Democratic newcomers for the fourth spot on the ballot, Phyllis Dew bested Erin Blake by just one vote — 142 to 141. As with the write-ins, that result will not be considered official until June 5.

Incumbent Ellen Willenbecher got the most votes on the Democratic side, 211, according to unofficial results. Council President Angela Lloyd received 192 and council Vice President Michael Woodworth 164, meaning all three will advance to be on the ballot in November.

Based on unofficial results, Sites received at least 22 write-in votes on the Republican ballot in the primary.

Asked if he ran a write-in campaign or knew of anyone running a write-in campaign on his behalf, Sites said Tuesday’s results “came as a total shock to me.”

At least 10 write-in votes — plus one more than anyone else receiving write-in votes — is required to get on the ballot, according to Gerald Feaser, director of Elections & Voter Registration for Dauphin County.

Four seats on the seven-member council are up for grabs, but only two candidates were on the Republican ballot in the primary, newcomer Richard Kluskiewicz and former councilor David Rhen.

Kluskiewicz got 317 votes and Rhen 276 — both more than anyone else received on either ballot Tuesday.

Kluskiewicz and Rhen both advance to two of the four positions on the fall Republican ballot. Sites, if he agrees to run, would have the third position. It is unlikely that anyone else got enough write-in votes to earn the fourth ballot position on the Republican side.

“I’d like to thank those individuals that wrote me in. It’s a great honor to have the respect they have given me to potentially represent the town,” said Sites, who served two council terms before deciding not to run again in 2015.

“I certainly enjoyed my time on council and appreciate everybody’s support, and will entertain all offers if they arrive,” he said.

Primary results don’t become official until June 5, after which the county will reach out to Sites and others who may have earned a place on the ballot through write-in votes, to see if they accept.

“I just gotta wait until official notification and go from there,” Sites said.

While Sites would not say if he is in or out, Woodworth is wasting no time going after Sites for Sites’ vote while on council in 2014 to approve leasing Middletown’s water and sewer systems to Suez for 50 years.

Woodworth in an emailed statement said he is “dismayed by the news that some members of our community chose to write in a former borough councilor, who is responsible in part for the leasing of our water department, and the rising water bills that all of Middletown is suffering from.”

“The water lease is the biggest issue facing our residents, and quite possibly the worst decision ever made for our community,” said Woodworth, a Democrat running for election to his first full term on council after being appointed a year ago to replace Ben Kapenstein, who resigned.

Sites was among seven councilors who on Sept. 29, 2014, voted to lease the water and sewer systems to Suez, then known as United Water. No members of council who voted on the lease are still on council.

The borough in return for approving the lease got an up-front payment of $43 million from Middletown Joint Venture LLC, the private investment entity including Suez. The borough used the money to pay off debt.

The lease also provides for the borough to receive payments from the joint venture totaling another $45 million over 50 years.

Council in April 2018 sued Suez and the joint venture, seeking to overturn what council said is an unjustified surcharge Suez levied on water and sewer customers to recoup lost revenue from what Suez said was a water sales shortfall in the first three years.

A federal judge dismissed the borough lawsuit in April 2019, but the borough is still pursuing relief through arbitration.

Council in a separate lawsuit pending in Dauphin County Court is pursuing a class action regarding the lease against the borough’s former solicitor, McNees Wallace & Nurick, and former financial advisors Susquehanna Group Advisors.

The lawsuit alleges malpractice by both McNees and Susquehanna, contending the two entities provided bad advice that council relied on in 2014 in deciding to approve the lease.

Woodworth in his emailed statement said that “I have been fighting for relief from the lease for residents since being appointed to borough council last May, and will continue to do so. Hopefully, the residents stay in the fight with me and the rest of council, and together we can avoid the chance of repeating past mistakes.”

Sites said he voted for the lease “based off of the professional advice that was given to me as an elected official by our professionals.”

He said he does not regret the vote and added, “I don’t know all the facts they (council) may know at this time” regarding the lease, given the ongoing litigation.

Moreover, water and sewer rates would have had to go up, regardless of whether or not the lease was approved, Sites said.

“Obviously rates would have had to rise if we maintained the water system, because of our infrastructure upgrades. So to pin this all on Suez I think is a bit of a mistake, considering there would have been an increase coming based on the improvements that we would have been required to make,” Sites said.

Woodworth was one of five Democrats on the ballot for Tuesday’s primary. He ran as a team with incumbents Lloyd and Willenbecher, both of whom were also appointed to council in 2018 and were also running for their first full term on council.

Besides his comment regarding Sites, Woodworth said he is “thrilled” that himself, Willenbecher and Lloyd are all advancing to the November ballot.

“The three of us have spent the past few months meeting with residents to better understand the issues they’re facing in our town, and will continue to do so as we prepare for fulfilling the hope of four more years of serving the Middletown community.”

“I am grateful to the voters for allowing Angela Lloyd, Mike Woodworth and I to advance to the general election in November,” said Willenbecher, who was appointed to council in December to replace former council President Damon Suglia, who resigned.

“As I traveled between the six polling stations, I never tired of watching citizens exercise a most precious right, responsibility and privilege and walking out wearing an ‘I Voted’ sticker. I hope to see even more voters in November. But now back to work,” Willenbecher continued in her statement. “For the next five months we will continue to meet and talk to residents about the issues they believe are most important for the borough and ideas for solutions.”

The most pressing issues she sees are the borough’s ordinance prohibiting more than two unrelated people from living in the same house, the “ongoing contest” with Suez, and the 2020 budget, Willenbecher said.

She will also focus on areas of special concern to her, such as addressing blight and abandoned properties, and devising plans to upgrade neighborhood parks.

Lloyd did not respond to a request for comment.