Selinsgrove Borough Council President and finance committee member Marvin Rudnitsky said he will not participate in any further financial discussions involving a nonprofit organization led by his daughter and on which he serves as a board member after concerns of a possible ethics violation were raised by the municipality’s solicitor.
Following the Aug. 1 council meeting – during which a discussion involving Radinsky’s daughter, Kelly Feiler, the president of the Regional Engagement Center (REC), which receives $60,000 a year from the borough’s Rudy Gelnett Trust Fund, took up an hour of the public session – council member Christopher Kalcich said membership of the three-member finance committee may need to be changed.
Kalcich suggested a financial committee “reshuffle” due to the conflict of interest involving Rudnitsky, who also serves as a REC board member, and finance committee chairman Bobbie Owens’ new rule that all discussion of the REC’s request for Gelnett funds be done during the council’s public session for transparency purposes.
“I appreciated hearing all the information, but I don’t think we should be singling out one organization,” Kalcich said, adding that discussion of the REC is taking too much of the council’s public meeting.
Rudnitsky said he is heeding Kalcich’s recommendation.
“The last two meetings were unduly prolonged because of issues not talked through in the financial committee,” said Rudnitsky who serves on the committee with Owens and council member Sara Lauver.
“In matters where conflicts arise” involving requests and discussions of Gelnett funding to the REC, Rudnitsky said, he will step away from the finance committee and permit Kalcich or another borough council member to take his seat. “I could remove myself (from the committee), but frankly, I think I have a lot to offer.”
Whether that is sufficient to address concerns raised publicly is not clear.
Following the meeting, during which borough solicitor Robert Cravitz cautioned Rudnitsky from answering questions as council president about the finances of the REC due to potential ethics violations since he serves on the organization’s board, Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch filed a Right-to-Know request for a copy of the audio or recording of the council meeting.
Piecuch would not comment Friday on why he requested the information or what, if any, action he planned to take.
The REC is receiving attention not only due to the significant public monies it receives from the borough-run trust fund, but the nonprofit organization’s plan to develop a multi-million dollar intergenerational community program in downtown Selinsgrove with state and federal funds even as it struggles to pay its bills operating a 10-week summer camp; nine-month after-school program and adult exercise classes.
The REC has an annual operating budget of about $360,000 to run the three programs — $130,000 of which is payroll. As president of the nonprofit organization established five years ago, Feiler is paid $55,000 a year. There are two other full-time employees: a director who receives an annual salary of $40,000 and an assistant director who is paid $35,000.
During the August council meeting when the board was deciding whether to approve giving $30,000 in Gelnett funds to support the REC’s $175,000 after-school drop-in program, Feiler said the organization is operating at a financial loss and struggled to meet payroll in July. According to the REC’s Aug. 18 meeting minutes, the organization was operating at a yearly loss of nearly $83,000.
Owens suggested charging a small fee to after-school drop-in participants and called on the REC board to come up with a sustainability plan.
After Owens and council members Richard Mease and Scott Frost voted against releasing the $30,000 in Gelnett funds to support the REC’s drop-in program and board members Kalcich, Lauver and Sara Maul voted to approve funding, Rudnitsky, who has always abstained from REC financial requests, relinquished his gavel and stepped out into the audience to inform the council:
“When you cut the grant to the REC, you don’t hurt Kelly Feiler. You hurt the children.”
The $30,000 was released to the REC when Mayor Jeff Reed broke the tie and voted to approve the funding.
Later, Frost told The Daily Item that he has concerns that the REC is “doing nothing to sustain themselves” while receiving Gelnett Trust funds, adding that the Selinsgrove swimming pool and library, both fund recipients, charge a fee to patrons.
Asked why the REC doesn’t charge a fee for the after-school drop-in program for students in grades 3-12, Feiler told the council it was part of the “core value” of the organization to provide the weekly program for free. About 50 students visit the center at 429 8th St. in Selinsgrove each weekday, she said.
Feiler informed the council that she had expected to raise $111,000 in grant funding this year, but despite applying “for 50 grants” had received $22,000 by the end of June.
“If Gelnett weren’t here, would this program be sustainable?” asked Cravitz during the August meeting.
Replied Feiler, “Thank God Rudy Gelnett is there for the children of Selinsgrove.”
Cravitz followed up by asking if there is a plan to make the drop-in program sustainable to which Feiler replied that the multi-million dollar intergenerational life center community project is the sustainability plan.
Despite being unable to obtain grants from numerous Valley charities for the REC’s $175,000 after-school drop-in program, Feiler has successfully secured millions of dollars for the multi-million dollar proposal to establish senior housing, maker spaces, a greenhouse, bike and skate park and youth center in downtown Selinsgrove.
So far this year, Feiler has applied for and received a $2 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant, of which a matching $2 million in non-state funds is required. She’s also waiting to learn if a $1.5 million federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant will be approved.
In April, state Sen. John Gordner credited Feiler’s “enthusiasm” and Radinsky’s “track record” in securing the competitive state RACP grant for which the REC must submit a formal application in mid-November.
Feiler also applied for $2 million in federal Housing and Urban Development Funds, of which U.S. Sen. Bob Casey extended an application for $1.5 million to support the intergenerational community project.
It is among 40 projects ranging in cost from $65,000 to $2 million that Casey is recommending receive congressional funding from the 2023 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill.
“For rural communities across Pennsylvania, community centers are often anchors in the region,” said Casey of his support for the Selinsgrove project. “The intergenerational community center will bring people in Selinsgrove and Snyder County together and create economic opportunities, promote healthy living and more. Now that Congress is providing funding directly to community projects for the first time in a decade, I fought to ensure rural communities like Selinsgrove are included and able to benefit from federal funding.”