Below are Cathy Paretti’s remarks, in their entirety, as read to Pottstown Borough Council!
June 13, 2011
I feel compelled to speak tonight so all facts are on the table concerning the Gallery School and what has happened with the county funding this year. First, to get the information correct about the Gallery School of Pottstown, we are a 501c3 non-profit community art center. We attained our non-profit status in 2005 in order to fulfill our mission of being a positive attraction not only for the downtown district but Pottstown as a whole. We specifically kept the name Pottstown in our title, even though at the time it was more fashionable to claim to be a tri county entity. We wanted to make Pottstown a name that was recognizable and associated with a positive reaction. Erika Hornburg-Cooper and myself are the co-founders of the organization. The Gallery School rents 254 High Street from CLE Properties, of which Erika and myself are partners along with a third person who owns 51% of the property. The third partner has no interest in the school. The Gallery School is seeking to purchase the property from CLE in order to renovate the third floor of the building so we can expand our programming and also attain an asset to make us more financially stable. Our board of directors will not invest in raising funds to renovate a building that it does not own, and the third partner of CLE will not invest money in the building, as she has no faith that Pottstown will pull itself out of its current downturn. As per the guidelines of the county revitalization program, we are well within the parameters of applying for the funds to purchase the building, just as Tri Pac has done in the past. Our current proposal only includes money to pay off the mortgage on the building, as well as any transfer fees that will occur from the transaction. As for the payout of the partners, our board of directors will be responsible to raise those funds as agreed to by the partners. All money secured by us from the county will go towards paying off the mortgage, and we provided ample evidence to the county to prove that this is the case. Neither Erika nor myself will receive any financial gain from the funds. We understand how this proposal may have raised some eyebrows, and went above and beyond to make ourselves available for questioning in the hopes of achieving maximum transparency in the matter. In short, we have nothing to hide. I have worked at this organization for the past seven years without taking a paycheck and am constantly paying out of my own pocket for expenses to keep the building and the organization running. Our only interest is in making sure that the organization is secure for the future.
I’d now like to discuss the events leading up to the mess we currently find ourselves in. As the facts currently stand, on March 14th council voted on the prioritization of projects to propose to the county. The results were that the Gallery School was chosen as the top priority and the Western Gateway was chosen as the second priority, with the vote breakdown being four for Gallery School, two for the Gateway, and none for the Skyline project. The borough staff was also on board with this decision. However, when it came time to present our projects to the county, they were to be presented in the order prioritized by council, and suddenly the Skyline project was now being presented as the second priority. At the time I wondered why this would be but, against my better judgment, decided not to question it, as we were not involved with either project. But now I can’t help but ask why, without a single vote from council, the Skyline project was suddenly presented as the second priority? The only entity against council’s decision of prioritization was Mayor Heath, whose opinion in the matter does not override that of the council.
In addition to this, Mayor Heath then took it upon herself to contact Commissioner Hoeffel and advocate for a project that was not supported by one member of borough council as far as any record of the matter is concerned. Her actions make our town look as if we do not have our so-called ducks in a row, and has once again cast Pottstown in a bad light with the county. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I did not feel at any time that our council and our borough staff were at odds with each other over the decision of March 14th.
I would also like to speak about recent events which I believe call into question the extent of the Mayor’s involvement in the county’s decision. On Friday, June 3rd, Mr. Mason Craig was approaching people in town and informing them that the Skyline project had been awarded funding by the county per recommendations by the county staff. This is important because that information was not to be made public until Monday, June 6th, when the county staff’s recommendations would be emailed to all involved parties. In those recommendations emailed on June 6th, it was outlined that the Skyline had been awarded $241,000, while the other two projects were not to receive funds. It wasn’t until June 7th when the revitalization board made their first ever decision not to follow the county staff’s recommendation and instead leave the decision to the commissioners. Still, I’d like to know how Mr. Craig was aware of the staff’s recommendations three days before they were to be announced.
To be clear, I have no political agenda. I only want to ensure that the Gallery School of Pottstown can keep its doors open to serve the community and help the town move forward. As for Mayor Heath, her actions may have serious consequences. Because of her and Mr. Wildrick’s appeal to Commissioner Hoeffel, Pottstown is now in a position where we may not see any county funding at a time when the economy is in serious turmoil. I understand that borough council cannot control the actions of its citizens, but Mayor Heath is an elected official. You may correct me here, but I believe Pottstown has a council – manager form of borough government, which means that the mayor did not have the authority to go against borough council’s wishes. Her interference in this process is, I believe, unethical, and I do hope that council reprimands her for her actions.
I have given all council members a copy of what I have said here tonight. I have also included copies of letters that we receive from students and parents of the children that attend our programming and classes. We have dozens more in our files. I hope these speak to the impact that we do make and can continue to make in the Pottstown community.
Thank you all for your attention.
Co-Founder, Gallery Director of the Gallery School of Pottstown