The heat is on in Rice Township. Rice residents have long suspected that sooner or later criminal charges of some sort would visit a Rice official and now it’s happened.
Rice Township Fire Department funds have vanished as if in a puff of smoke. According to Rice police, $4,395.43 vanished from the fire department’s checking account between June 12, 2012 and December 26, 2012 when Don Bly was the acting fire department treasurer. A felony criminal complaint was filed on March 7 by Sgt. Harry Ehret against Bly for Theft by Deception-False Impression.
Those who have followed the chaotic state of municipal affairs in Rice Township since Supervisors Miller Stella and George Venesky formed a new majority in 2010, have witnessed a lack of leadership unparalleled in any other Mountaintop municipality. The smoldering disorder and confusion created by Stella and Venesky has erupted into a blaze that could very well spread beyond the fire department and engulf the entire township.
Bly’s “perp walk” was televised last week on the local news as the former fire chief/treasurer, cuffed and cowering, hide his face from the cameras as he was escorted into the Wright Township municipal building by Sgt. Ehret.
But Bly wasn’t that shy last year when he publicly championed the state of the fire department and proclaimed he was not just the Acting Fire Chief but the Fire Chief. Bly made his pronouncement at the September 11, 2012 meeting of the Rice Board of Supervisors when the fire department’s finances came under scrutiny for a different reason. The main topic at that meeting was township’s Fire Relief Association’s non-compliance with the Pennsylvania State Auditor General as had been reported in the Sept. 5, 2012 edition of the Mountaintop Eagle.
Bly admonished the Eagle publisher for suggesting any mismanagement, stating, “Undocumented expenditures? We have no undocumented expenditures. That is false.”
Keep in mind that, according to the criminal complaint against Bly, funds were also disappearing from the fire department’s checking account during the very timeframe Bly rendered his impassioned speech.
Bly went on to praise the Rice supervisors, especially Miller Stella, who, noted Bly, was joining the fire department.
Venesky’s response to fire chief Bly’s droning speech was, “Thanks, Don, for letting the public know the facts. We appreciate it.”
Know the facts? It’s been nothing but smoke and mirrors in Rice Township since Stella and Venesky became the powerful two who have no clue how to serve the public or take responsibility for their dumb decisions which are too many to enumerate. They are an embarrassment to the people of township. If Stella and Venesky had done their jobs as elected officials in managing the township, the former fire company chief and treasurer would not been charged with a crime. The fire company, police department, road department are all under the supervision of the board of supervisors. Majority members Stella and Venesky have called all the shots since 2010 and look what’s happening in the fire department.
It must have been very, very difficult for supervisor and fellow fireman Stella to file a compliant with the police of the alleged theft from the fire department’s checking account when Bly was the acting treasurer. It’s going to be even more difficult for Stella to appear at the preliminary hearing for his buddy, Bly, which has yet to be set.
And where is Venesky during this debacle? At the March 12 meeting of the board of supervisors, Venesky was MIA, unable to attend for reasons unknown. He did, however, grace the Rice residents who attended that meeting with his input via speakerphone. Hard to believe yet true. Since Stella was unable to attend, Venesky obviously did not have the backbone to go it alone.
But Venesky did have to answer questions as to why the annual Easter Egg Hunt for the children of the township had been cancelled. Venesky claimed the volunteers for this year’s hunt were not following the rules which were, according to Venesky, that they had to pay out of pocket for the hunt and then be reimbursed by the township. This was news to the volunteers. Last year, the township funded the annual event to the tune of $1600 but that was because there were actually volunteers from the fire department to run it. But volunteers did step forward, led by minority board member Marcia Thomas, which is probably why the Easter Egg Hunt was cancelled. If it wasn’t going to be Venesky’s way, it wasn’t going to happen. There was no concern about disappointing the children.
Will Venesky have the nerve to run for reelection in the May Primary? Well, not according to list of candidates filed at the Luzerne County Courthouse. Venesky has chosen to turn tail and run. What a blessing for the residents of Rice Township. Based upon his performance as supervisor and public opinion, the chances of his reelection were slim to none anyway and he hates to lose. Too bad he wreaked such havoc before deserting the ship.
Things will get better in Rice Township when people emerge who actually have leadership skills, like Paul Eyerman, the chief and newly appointed treasurer for the fire department. That’s certainly one step in the right direction.
Now that Venesky has bailed, hopefully Stella will resign once he becomes a minority board member. When that happens, the sunshine will once again light up Rice Township.