Orange Township trustees – past and present – clash over contractor payments

By Dustin Ensinger - [email protected]

During a Orange Township trustees’ meeting that at times devolved into shouting, one trustee alleged a contractor hired each year by the township has engaged in fraud.

Trustee Lisa Knapp on Tuesday said that Scott Overturf, who serves as a construction consultant, has regularly submitted invoices that not only lack detail, but that the costs he bills the township for mileage, phone expenses and technology expenses are based on a formula.

“It is a formula. It is fraud. It’s like clockwork,” she said, which led an audience member to shout: “You’re a fraud.”

Knapp’s fellow trustees – Rob Quigley and Deb Taranto – have denied anything illegal has taken place, but have acknowledged the need for more detailed invoices from Overturf.

Invoices obtained by The Gazette that cover all of 2014 and about half of 2015 show that Overturf, in most cases, did indeed calculate his phone costs, tech costs and mileage costs, as Knapp has alleged, by multiplying the number of hours he submitted on the invoice by another figure.

In most cases, he multiplied the number of hours he submitted by 4.5 to calculate his mileage; by 2 to calculate phone costs; and by .75 to calculate tech costs, although the numbers do vary from time to time.

Knapp, who has frequently clashed with her fellow elected officials and township employees since taking office, also alleged the township is not legally allowed to pay Overturf for tech costs and phone costs because reimbursement for those expenses is not spelled out in a resolution. In resolutions dating back to 2008 approving the appointment of Overturf’s company, RPO LLC, the legislation lays out his hourly rate and says he will be reimbursed for travel expenses, but they do not mention phone or tech costs. The letter Overturf sent to the township in December 2014 asking to be reappointed also makes no mention of phone or tech costs.

Knapp’s allegation drew the ire of one former trustee, Mark Robertson, who originally hired Overturf to oversee the construction of a new township fire station.

“That was his first major project with us,” said an agitated Robertson, who was told to calm down more than once by Quigley. “And I’m going to tell you, you couldn’t work with a finer individual. The contractors were responsive to him. They did what they were told. They got it done on time, they got it done under time and they saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Robertson, who at one time slammed his hands on the podium at which members of the public address the trustees, also took issue with The Gazette’s first report on the issue, calling it “bad” and a “witch hunt.”

But Robertson saved most of his ire for Knapp.

“This is not a game,” he said. “You are paid by the people to represent the people and take care of their business. You are not taking care of their business if you don’t know anything about Mr. Overturf.”

Another former trustee, Nelson Katz, who served from 2008 to 2011, also took issue with Knapp’s allegations and The Gazette’s reporting, albeit in a more measured tone.

He said that despite the lack of detail on his invoices, trustees were always aware of what Overturf was doing for the township. He said he exchanged more than 500 emails with Overturf during his tenure in office.

He did, however, acknowledge that Overturf’s invoices should be more detailed.

“There’s no argument about that,” he said.

Both Katz and Robertson left before the conclusion of the meeting.

The raucous meeting was the township’s first since The Gazette published a story on Aug. 31 detailing the lack of documentation Overturf has provided to the township.

Two separate invoices that covers an 11-day period from Jan. 21-31 in 2014 show that Overturf billed the township for 134 hours. Under a portion of the invoice labeled “projects,” Overturf write “11 projects” on one invoice and “trustee meeting” on the other.

The invoices also include 574 miles billed to the township with no dates or locations of travel, $268 in phone costs and slightly more than $100 in “tech costs.” Neither of the invoices include any supporting documents, such as receipts or bills.

He billed the township $9,042 for the 11-day period.

Overturf submitted three invoices in January, totaling $13,345. Just two of the invoices included hours, but all three listed the projects as “trustee meeting.” Overturf’s name is mentioned just once in the minutes of the trustees’ first three trustee meetings of the year

The invoices also include 665 miles, $552 in phone costs and $73 in “tech costs.” No documentation accompanies the invoices.

Nearly all of the other invoices obtained by The Gazette from 2014 and 2015 lack detail. A handful list specific project numbers.

“At one time he did provide a little more detailed invoices and he’s going to go back to that,” said Quigley, adding the township plans to “re-evaluate the contract.”

Overturf has been paid more than $1.5 million since he began his relationship with the township, based on Quigley’s estimates.

Nonetheless, Quigley defended Overturf and the work he does for the township – which includes overseeing construction projects, grant writing and scoping projects.

“It’s having that extra eye that has experience that has helped out greatly,” he said.

By Dustin Ensinger

[email protected]

Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.

Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.