County asks state ethics commission to probe War Memorial
JOHNSTOWN — The Cambria County Commission asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate the Cambria County War Memorial after concerns over a board member's business dealings.
The concerns, first published by the Daily American's Our Town magazine, are over a business relationship between Dean Gindlesperger, chair of the Cambria County War Memorial Authority, and Steve St. John, the arena's general manager.
Gindlesperger and St. John denied any wrongdoing in interviews with 6 News on Thursday, saying they welcome an investigation by the ethics committee.
Commissioners were concerned after being told this week by an Our Town reporter that a company run by Gindlesperger, Allegheny Field Services, had been paid thousands of dollars by SMG, the company that manages the arena, something Gindlesperger didn't disclose to the rest of the board for months.
Apart from the lack of disclosure, Gindlesperger did not abstain from voting to continue SMG's contract with the county, even though his business was being paid by SMG.
The War Memorial, now formally called the 1st Summit Arena at the Cambria County War Memorial, is owned by Cambria County, but the county contracts out the management of the arena to SMG, a nationwide event management company.
Last year, during replacement of the floors in the arena, SMG realized they were going to have a problem storing the 9,000 gallons of glycol that helps keep the ice cold.
According to St. John, the glycol couldn't be stored inside the arena, because there wasn't room, and couldn't be stored outside, because it would be damaged by the sunlight and become unusable, costing them, and possibly taxpayers, thousands of dollars.
The glycol needed to be stored somewhere immediately and, out of options, St. John said he asked Gindlesperger, the chairman of the board, if he had anywhere they could store the glycol.
Gindlesperger let SMG store the glycol at one of his company's properties, charging them just $600 a month, far less than the going rate for that property.
That arrangement continued even after the glycol didn't need to be stored anymore because St. John said they had equipment they needed to store, and $600 a month was a price they couldn't pass up.
The problem was that neither Gindlesperger nor St. John told the Cambria County War Memorial Authority board about this arrangement until months after it started.
Other board members, for their part, said they didn't see anything wrong with the arrangement, particularly because it saved so much money.
Still, though, Gindlesperger voted, along with other board members, to continue SMG's contract with the county, something he called a no-brainer, even though his company was being paid by SMG.
"We didn't feel we were doing anything wrong," Gindlesperger said. "We felt we were saving the taxpayers money."
He said that as soon as questions were raised earlier this year, he informed the board of the arrangement.
"Do you think, in hindsight, you would've informed them earlier, looking back?" a 6 News reporter asked Gindlesperger.
"Well, yeah," he responded. "And I can assure you I'll probably be on the paranoid side (of being transparent) going forward."
Still, though, he maintains he did nothing untoward, particularly because he was charging SMG so little for the storage space.
"These people are insinuation I voted for the SMG contract because I'm getting $600 a month for warehouse rentals is ridiculous," he said.
On Thursday, county solicitor Bill Barbin expressed support for Gindlesperger but said they were still going to refer the situation to the state Ethics Commission.
"It's not meant as an accusation," Barbin said. "Issues were raised, and those facts should be sent to the people who have investigatory power over it."
Robert Caruso, the executive director of the State Ethics Commission, told 6 News on Thursday that it's far too early to comment on this particular case, but added that investigations like this one can last from 6 to 12 months.
He also said that, in general, the can look into situations where government officials are voting on items in which they have a business interest, but again stressed it's much too early to talk about this particular case.