Reade’s troubles continue

Officials of municipalities in this part of Pennsylvania should be interested in watching how Reade Township’s missing-equipment saga plays out but not for a reason some might expect.

To those other municipalities, the identity or identities of anyone who might have had a hand in making the equipment valued at more than $16,000 “go missing” is secondary. More important to them are the lessons that should be learned based on the Cambria County municipality’s experience.

Reade can be deemed as having been derelict in its responsibility to the township’s taxpayers.

It shouldn’t have taken township leaders who-knows-how-long to become aware that equipment was missing.

The items in question aren’t small hand tools such as hammers or screwdrivers that could have walked away in jackets or lunchboxes. According to an article in the May 12 Mirror, a list supplied by township officials identifies the missing items as two 10-foot snowplows, a portable generator, a portable air compressor, riding mower, vibrator plate, pressure cleaner, stick welder and chainsaw.

Perhaps an investigation eventually will provide easy explanations for what happened to all of the items; state police have been asked to conduct a probe, and township supervisors Chairman John McElheny has appealed to people of the community to provide to officials any information that might be relevant.

Perhaps there won’t be cause for filing criminal charges against anyone, once explanations have been received and evaluated.

But for Reade, as well as every other municipality, the primary message to be derived from the missing-equipment situation is that every community needs a system of supervision for every aspect of municipal operations, not just for ensuring that the financial books are in order.

Reade seems to have been governed by misguided confidence that whenever certain equipment would be needed, it always would be available and ready for use, without anyone really having kept track of it and without anyone having been charged with ensuring that it was maintained properly.

More troubling is that the township apparently didn’t conduct routine inventories of equipment and other resources, something every municipality should do.

The days when all municipal business could be dealt with during one monthly meeting are long gone.

The May 12 Mirror article notes that township officials, once they determined that equipment was missing, reviewed meeting minutes from years past, from which they were able to determine when equipment was purchased.

“We found no minutes that said they (township officials) disposed of that equipment,” McElheny said.

McElheny rightly noted that equipment owned by the taxpayers isn’t permitted to be loaned for private use. Some people not familiar with all of the “nuts and bolts” of municipal operations might be wondering whether any current officials might be liable for surcharge if the equipment in question disappeared while they were serving in township elected offices.

Meanwhile, township residents are justified in wondering what other important information supervisors might be keeping secret. McElheny disclosed that supervisors have known about the missing equipment since January, but township leaders kept secret the information because they were hopeful that a police investigation would unravel the mystery.

That secrecy was wrong.

No other municipality ever should allow itself to get caught up in a situation like the one now dogging Reade.