Miller Bros. Construction and Corruption in Wayne Township

Apparently there is nothing that money cannot buy in Wayne Township. For Miller Bros. Construction that means possession of a monopoly that has lined theirs and township officials pockets at the expense of a small group of homeowners in Friedensburg.

The Pottsville Republican and Herald reported today that some property owners in the small township outside of Pine Grove have retained an attorney to represent them in enjoining MBC from go forward with plans to build a tractor-trailer terminal and industrial warehouse on a 30-acre parcel of wetland that is bordered by numerous residences, including those belonging to elderly and disabled individuals. But that is only half of the story. The other half is a tale of government corruption and greed that has threatened to turn a pristine neighborhood that is home to various species of wildlife including the endangered Bogg Turtle into a noisy, smog filled, glorified parking lot.

To understand this story, you must first know the players.

MBC is a multi-million dollar construction and development corporation owned by this area’s own Jim Miller and based in Schuylkill County. They are responsible for some of the most beautiful and expensive buildings in our county and across Pennsylvania. MBC has been responsible for such structures as J. Bertolet Volkswagon and the new surgery center at the Cressona Mall, as well as refurbishment of many historical buildings in northeast and central Pennsylvania.

Wayne Township, situated just outside of Pine Grove, is the site of the proposed industrial complex and maintains authority over zoning and building permits in Friedensburg. The township is governed by a three member board of supervisors. The responsibility of maintaining zoning regulations and allowing variances is given to a three-member zoning hearing board.

MBC purchased the parcel of land last September for a bargain basement price of $200,000 for 30 acres from an elderly woman who reportedly needed the money to pay for her husband’s continued stay in a nursing home. At the time of sale, Miller allegedly told area resident Mel McDonald, who unsuccessfully tried to purchase the property himself, that MBC planned to subdivide the lot into five parts and develop residential homes. That turned out to be a lie because shortly after closing on the property, MBC went ahead with plans for the proposed truck terminal and warehouse. They even reportedly contracted with a Cressona based pet supply company, to store the company’s product.

When residents caught wind of MBC’s proposal, they immediately began to fight it. According to the Wayne township zoning ordinance, the parcel is zoned as CR2, meaning that the land can only be developed for residential and certain commercial purposes. Before begining construction, MBC had to obtain a special exception to ensure the health, safety, and security of adjacent properties.

This is where things start to become crooked.

In May, the Wayne Township Zoning Hearing Board heard MBC’s petition for the special exception. 15 of the affected residents were in attendance to oppose it. Only two of the board’s members were in attendance: Board chairman Bryan Hoover, father in-law of Jim Miller’s daughter Becky, and Michael Pohronezny, reportedly a former sub-contractor for MBC. The third member of the board was on vacation and unable to attend.

After a long and raucous debate in open meeting, Hoover and Pohronezny adjourned to an executive session (a meeting behind closed doors). However, they reportedly called David Rattigan, attorney for MBC, into the session with them. When they returned from the session, the residents were informed that the board had voted unanimously that to grant the special exception.

If any of this seems shiesty to you, just wait.

First of all, this issue should not even have been in front of these zoning officials to begin with. According to Section 1103(a) of the PA Ethics Act, no public official  shall engage in conduct that constitutes a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is defined as use by a public official of the authority of his office for private pecuniary benefit of himself OR a member of his immediate family OR a business in which he or an immediate family member is associated. Zoning board members fall within the Ethics Act as a public official because they are responsible for taking official action of a non-ministerial nature with regard to zoning. As mentioned above, Hoover is an in-law of the Millers, the owners of MBC and Pohronezny has a business relationship with MBC as a former sub-contractor. Thus, under the Ethics Act their decision to act on this proposal was not only inappropriate as to procedure, it may have even been criminal.

Secondly, it was completely inappropriate, not to mention unfair to the residents in opposition, to allow the attorney for the party seeking board action into the deliberations of executive session. As a former planning commissioner in Hamburg, it was against our borough charter for anyone other than commission members and council members to be in the roon for an executive session.

It is clear that in this case, MBC stacked the deck. Not only should they be enjoined pending an investigation into whether the project actually conforms to the stated commercial usage allowed in that zone, but Hoover and Pohronezny should be criminally charged with conflicts of interest and removed from their posts. In addition, Atty. Rattigan may have violated the PA Code of Professional Conduct himself and should be investigated by the State Disciplinary Board.

Shady backroom deals like this that leave good ordinary people in the lurch makes me sick. It is the job of the government to ensure that these people don’t get bowled over by such a huge corporation. In this case, though, the government was in on the bowling and its members seemed ready to profit themselves. Ridiculous.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Miller Bros. Construction and Corruption in Wayne Township

  1. Jim Miller Jr.

    Mr. Clarke (is that your name?):

    Here’s a few corrections to your story.

    1. The company is MBC Development, not Miller Bros. Construction. The two companies share one owner out of about ten. My father (James L. Miller, we refer to him as Jim Miller Sr.), is the only shared owner of the two companies.

    2. The wetlands – you can come to my office and examine the $2,000 +/- wetland study we had done. We are not touching the wetlands. There are only 1 +/- acres of wetlands in the entire piece. The study includes searching for bog turtles. This study is acceptable by the Schuylkill County Conservation District, Army Corps of Engineering, and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

    3. The bargain basement price of $200,000 was at an AUCTION! And at $7,000 +/- an acre with no home on the property is representative of farms in that area.

    4. My father, James Miller Sr., denies that he told Mel McDonald anything about residential subdivision. No one from MBC Development told Mr. McDonald what he alleges we have said.

    5. We have not contracted with “Baymore” – I assume you mean Central Garden & Pet Supply in Cressona. We are also not currently negotiating any deal with them.

    6. We did not need a variance, nor was one requested. We needed a special exception. Ask a lawyer the difference if you don’t know what that means. That means our use is AUTOMATICALLY permitted, however the zoning board can put on protections for the residents to protect their health, safety, and welfare. We were granted a special exception at the zoning meeting.

    7. Bryan Hoover is not my father’s Brother in law. The original Pottsville Republican story reported that Bryan Hoover is my sister’s Father in Law and Mr. Hoover announced so at the start of the hearing. So, officially, Jim’s daughter is Becky. Becky’s husband is Mark Hoover. Mark’s father is Bryan Hoover. This was all correctly reported by the Pottsville Republican.

    8. MBC Development has been in existence since 2002 or 2003. Mr. Pohronezny’s firm is System Design Engineering. He might also own an engineered building sales company – you’ll have to ask him. I am not aware of any direct business between the two. MBC Development’s predecessor MBC Properties hired SDE for one small $30,000 contract in 2000 or so. The company that sells engineered buildings (not sure if it is SDE, or even if Mr. Pohronezny’s is part owner) does occasionally sell steel buildings (material only) to Miller Bros. Construction.

    SDE is also a township and municipal engineering company. Sometimes townships (such as North Manheim) hire SDE to review Miller Bros. Construction work and to give MBC Development occupancy permits. We have absolutely no control over that. I do not see any conflict in that role. Being on the zoning board and having oversight on building/occupancy permits is not a conflict in my book.

    We ask that you immediately pull this story to correct these errors, and apologize for the mistatements.

    It sounds like you want to be a reporter, but you didn’t attempt to check any of the facts. In the future, if you would like to write about us and would like to get your story accurate, please email me at jim@millerbros.com or call me at 570-385-1662. I’d also be happy to clarify any of my points above. Thank you. Jim Miller Jr. MBC Development, Director of Development

  2. Hank Clarke

    Yes, Hank Clarke is my real name. I do not behind an internet persona. If you look on the ABOUT page you will even see a photo and bio.

    As to the issues you have with my story, I will address them individually:

    1. Semantics.

    2. The stated that the parcel was on wetlands. It seems that you have just admitted that I am correct.

    3. Still, you only paid 200K for the property, which is exactly what I reported.

    4. But Mel McDonald insists that you told him this and his wife backs up his story. Its a he said/she said situation and completely appropriate to print.

    5. I corrected the name, but not because of you. One of my relatives called me about it. However, the fact that you are not currently in negotiations with them does not change the fact that multiple sources told me that you had a deal in place with them months ago, but that they only gave you 6 months to complete the warehouse or else they would pull out. If you would like to comment on that feel free.

    6. That is not what witnesses who were present at the meeting told me. The fact remains that a member of your family and former sub-contractor for one of your subsidiaries authorized action on your request, which as I stated in my article is both inappropriate and against the law.

    7. I did change the relationship in the story to comport with accuracy. So sorry. However, nothing changes. Whether he is a brother in law to your father or father in law to your sister, he is according to the law and immediate family member, which was my point.

    8. Selling steel to your company for projects makes him a sub-contractor. Doing so in the past makes it “former”. Exactly, how was I wrong here?

    So it seems that you are arguing over semantics here. The point of this story was to expose how the process was inherently unfair to the opponents of your plan because you had the deck so stacked that the result was never in question. That is not how things should be done.

  3. Jim B

    The attorney for the residents is James Wallbillich from Cerullo, Datte & Wallbillich, P.C., Pottsville. I find this ironic since this lawfirm has been representing many developers, namely MGM One,Two Three and Four (in multiple Townships the largest being the Greenview Village Project in North Manheim Twp), Wagners in Blythe Twp, and Dunchak (the Bottoms in Orwigsburg) to name a few.

  4. Nice post. A few comments. The ethics act defines immediate family members as a “parent, spouse, child, brother or sister”, which means no legal conflict of interest exists in a matter involving a Board member and his father in law. Secondly, a business relationship, i.e. a business in which one is associated includes “any business in which the person or a member of the person’s immediate family is a director, officer, owner, employee or has a financial interest”. So a former affilation with a business is not a per se ethics violation. 65 P.S. 1102. However, under the open meetings law, a/k/a the Sunshine Act, a sufficient reason for the executive session, and duration thereof, must be provided at the time of the executive session, or at the next public meeting. One reason may be to hear the legal (a/k/a confidential) advice of the attorney, without whom, under those circumstances, there could be no executive session. Did you futher imply that the Zoning Hearing Board held a hearing on the requested special execption and that the ZHB’s solicitor was NOT present. That is very very weird. Generally the solicitor is present to run the hearing and clarify the record at minimum. Perhaps you should request a transcript from the board’s stenographer.

  5. Hank Clarke

    Thanks for your input, Mr. Najarian. Though, I would probably make the argument that because Mr. Hoover’s son is married to a Miller that he indirectly received pupecuniary gain from the decision, which would link Mr. Hoover in the necessary chain that you cited above. I don’t know how that would play, but its an argument.

    My point in the whole article was to illustrate the need for the residents to receive a fair shake in front of a neutral arbitor. There are procedures in place for bodies like this to avoid even the appearance of impropriety that gives life to matters like these.

    My wish is that the ZHB minus the two members identified in the article to revisit the exception issue, render a decision, and move on with all parties being satisfied that they were indeed heard.

  6. My point in the whole article was to illustrate the need for the residents to receive a fair shake in front of a neutral arbitor.

    Bingo! I agree whole heartedly. So my question is, why doesn’t the public bother to make an informed vote, or even vote, run for local office, go to the various meetings etc. ! Nary anyone bothers to attend any local municipal meeting! Its always the same group. If we don’t participate in our backyard, how can we complain about the County, State and other governments. Do I understand that the auditor in Wayne Township ran unopposed? No reflection on him, rather a reflection on disinterest. In local politics, local voices can be heard, yet no one comes out. I fear its the same in your neck of the woods.

    As to procedures for recusal, that is a double edged knife from the perception of the board member. Upon recusal, the member must disclose in writing the full nature of any perceived conflict of interest by filing an abstention memorandum with the secretary of the Board, which then will be thrown back at the person upon any action involving the same parties or similar subject matter, however distant. The recusal is good for ethics but squarely defines a conflict of interest per se, as a matter of law, which then handcuffs the individual on any later similar subject matter, subject to criminal penalties, which is why most loathe to do it. Consider the situation, must one be barred from any question involving an in-law? Perhaps so, I won’t disagree. But the law does not support that contention.

  7. Jim Miller will get anything he wants. He has governemnt backing. Here’s one example of his backing. MBC built the Federal office for Social Security via the Fenstamacher brother’s (owners of the building who lease to Social Security and Hadesty’s) on West Market Street in Pottsville. Greg Pulaski the former manager at the Pottsville Social Security office made sure the contract went to MBC by telling OPM to give them the contract. Tim Holden demanded this of Mr. Pulaski. The building now has structural problems that MBC wash thier hands of and have left the mess in the hands of the Fenstamacher’s.

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