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Lehigh County Commissioners to question solicitor on possible conflict of interest

Published On: Apr 23 2014 09:50:39 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 23 2014 10:05:41 PM CDT
Lehigh County Commissioners
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Lehigh County Commissioners will seek answers from their solicitor, Matthew Sorrentino, concerning any possible conflicts of interests regarding the once-proposed Tax Increment Financing plan (TIF) for the Hamilton Crossings Shopping Center in Lower Macungie Township.

Chairwoman, Lisa Scheller, told members at Wednesday night's Lehigh County Commissioners' meeting that she received a letter from attorney Jonathan Hugg of the Philadelphia law firm, Clark Hill, about a possible legal conflict.

The letter questioned why the law firm of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, which employs Sorrentino, also represents entities who seek to build the Hamilton Crossings Shopping Center in Lower Macungie Township.

Attorney Richard Somach, who also works at Allentown-based Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, is the solicitor for Lower Macungie Township.

That, and the fact that Lehigh County Commissioners rejected the TIF last year, presents a conflict of interest, according to Hugg's letter.

"In view of the fact that (commissioners) rejected the TIF, (they) should consider demanding that the solicitor's firm disqualify itself from representing any other entity regarding the TIF," Hugg wrote. 

Hugg's firm represents Cedar Realty Trust which operates the Trexler Mall and Trexlertown Shopping Centers in Lower Macungie Township.

County Executive Thomas Muller told commissioners that attorney Hugg has an "axe to grind."

"There should be discussion between (commissioners) and Mr. Sorrentino, but at no time does (county) administration know what comes between commissioners and the law department," Muller said.

Commissioners seemed concerned about any consequences that could damage the board.

"This is troubling to me on many levels," said commissioner Michael Schware. "This comes as a surprise to me. This may or may not be a conflict, but something told to us in any legal response, the public has a right to know about it. We need to create a policy where we'll be informed."

"It would've been nice to have known this when we made our decision (about the TIF) with the best knowledge we had at the time," said commissioner Brad Osborne. "My concern is that the letter seems unseemly. We have to be smarter in the process."

Vice-chairman David Jones said formal action was not immediately needed.

"We need prudence and careful thought and take the necessary time to do that, instead of being pressured by a person with an agenda," he said.

Scheller said Sorrentino will be invited to the next commissioners committee meeting to discuss the matter.

Commissioners approve three appointments, deny one

Commissioners approved Kay Achenback of Bushkill Township, Northampton County, to the position of Lehigh County Human Services Director and Janine Donate of Lower Nazareth Township, Northampton County to the post of Lehigh County Warden.

Commissioners also appointed Harry Lyons, of Allentown, to the Lehigh County Authority but voted against named Jeff Glazier to a post on the Authority.

Commissioners eye sale of Upper Macungie land parcels to hotelier

Commissioners are considering selling two parcels of land on Route 100 in Upper Macungie Township to the Joshi Hotel Group, LLC.

In a first reading, commissioners said they will sell two lots of approximately 13.476 acres and 6.3 acres of county land at 749 Route 100 for $900,000.

However, commissioner Percy Dougherty said the sale should be re-examined so that the county can garner the maximum amount of money for the lots.

"It's a perfect spot for a hotel, however, we should seek comparable (sales) in the area," Dougherty said.

The resolution will come back in front of commissioners in two weeks.