Coatesville, which has struggled for more than 40 years to recover from the decline of its lucrative steel industry, appears to be repeating a pattern of making progress and then backsliding.
In the wake of a major drug bust and investigations into police misconduct and missing funds, the struggling city of about 13,100 residents has initiated termination proceedings against Stacy Bjorhus, its finance director and a vocal advocate of reform.
Bjorhus's exit yesterday was criticized by two former officials, Karl Marking, who stepped down as City Council president in August, and Matt Baker, who resigned from the Redevelopment Authority in September. Both linked their own departures to frustration over resistance to improve the city's accountability - from other officials as well as some city employees.
"It seems to me that terminating the person who pulled back the veil on so many of the issues currently being investigated (though others seem quick to claim that credit) certainly seems punitive," Marking said of Bjorhus's exit. He predicted that a forensic audit of the city, initially facilitated in 2010 by District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll, would go nowhere. A volunteer auditor obtained by Carroll "was driven out by certain current members of Council when they didn't like his approach or where his investigation was leading," Marking said. Since then, the city hired another auditor at taxpayers' expense. "Personally, I believe that audit will be delayed until the current Council turns over in January - and then will never happen at all due to a lack of votes."
Labeling the current Council members "seat-warmers," Baker said he was surprised that the city's financial disarray had not prompted the state to intervene. "I just find it amazing that someone isn't shaking their head and saying, 'OK, get out of the way; we're taking over.'"