Selinsgrove, PA – A community center will be opening its doors in the borough after more than 4 years of work. Fulfilling one of his campaign promises to see the community center become a reality, current Borough Council President Marvin Rudnitsky has raised nearly half a million dollars for the kids, but, maybe not your kids. Recent leaks from the REC of Eastern Snyder County are raising serious concerns of nepotism.
To-date there has been no public advertisement for a director position at the REC. However, on July 21st WKOK reported that Councilman Rudnitsky’s daughter, Kelly Feiler, will be appointed to the job. WKOK left out that Feiler’s appointment came through a non-competitive process.
“It’s definitely a conflict” says Tish Morgan, Standards for Excellence Director at the PA Association of Non-Profit Organizations (PANO), “it is a conflict by definition.”
Here’s how it all went down.
Former Mayor Christine began the effort to bring a recreational center to Selinsgrove more than 4 years ago. The project was mothballed, however, when Christine left office leaving a turn-key project ready to be picked up; his team had prepared a nearly 20-page business plan having consulted multiple recreation centers in the area to gather best practices, and even met with potential location property owners. When a local church had a fire last year and decided to sell the property, Councilman Rudnitsky and Snyder County District Attorney Mike Piecuch saw an opportunity to revive the project.
DA Piecuch took the first steps in refreshing the community center. Through the Snyder County Coalition for Kids (SCC4K), a non-profit Piecuch created and currently leads, he gathered a group including Mr Rudnitsky to begin raising money for the purchase of the Christ United Methodist Church property.
Using discretionary funds collected through fees on drug and DUI convictions, DA Piecuch assigned money to the SCC4K to hire a community mobilizer. Councilman Rudnitsky’s daughter, and current SCC4K board of directors’ secretary, Kelly Feiler was hired through an undisclosed process at an undisclosed rate.
Rudnitsky and Feiler began appearing in local advertisements and the media seeking donations for the community center. Although the stated goal was $150,000, enough to purchase the property, in only a couple months Councilman Rudnitsky was patting himself on the back for raising nearly half of a million dollars. Rudnitsky rebuffed citizen concerns once by stating “I raise a lot of money.”
Feiler and Piecuch appeared before the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) with the fervent assistance of Borough Manager and Zoning Officer Paul Williams. While explaining, Feiler and Piecuch revealed several members of the handpicked board for a new non-profit that would oversee the center after the building had been purchased. The list included Rudnitsky as well as Selinsgrove Projects Incorporated (SPI) president Carol Handlan, both of whom have admitted in the past to using non-profits to blackmail community volunteers. Since that hearing, no other full listing of the board of directors has been made public
Following the hearing Rudnitsky sent a letter to the members of the ZHB in anticipated response to safety requirements the board was considering. Although it is questionable how he became aware of the internal discussions of the ZHB, in Rudnitsky’s letter he claims it was not their place to be establishing requirements to move forward, rather he should be overseeing matters as Borough Council president. Every member of the ZHB except Edward Mann signed the order anyway; Mann refused to return message from the other board members and skipped the following meeting.
Calls to DA Piecuch to find out if Rudnitsky had permission to write the letter on behalf of the SCC4K or the community center group went unreturned, but a member of the board told SCC that no meeting had occurred for him to be given permission or the matter discussed.
Despite questions raised by Planning Commission (PC) member and former assistant zoning officer Janet Powers that are still unresolved to this day, Manager Williams assisted Piecuch and Feiler through receiving final approval before borough council. Immediately after Council’s vote, and despite neither a property being purchased yet or even the organization being formed yet, Rudnitsky exclaimed that the community center will have an executive director position that his daughter Kelly Feiler would likely be receiving.
On April 28th, the Regional Engagement Center (REC) of Eastern Snyder County officially purchased the former church property. In their facebook post regarding signing the paperwork, rather than REC board president Lorinda Krause being seen it is Piecuch, Rudnitsky, and Feiler.
Multiple attempts over more than a month and a half to reach Krause regarding the progress of the project or when an advertisement for the director position would be available stalled at the only point of contact for the REC, Ms Feiler. In the latest attempt Feiler responded “good luck with your article.”
Following the unauthorized leak of Feiler’s appointment on WKOK, SCC connected with non-profit expert Tish Morgan. Speaking by phone, Morgan explained the importance of transparency when a new non-profit starts. “There are a lot of political campaign contributions going under the radar because [donations aren’t] public” Morgan cautioned.
Morgan said that even when her organization was hiring for an administrative assistant position and an excelling intern was likely to get the job, “we did still advertise it.” Morgan made sure to distinguish that it isn’t illegal for non-profits to hire non-competitively, but that it isn’t a best-practice either. Clarifying that Rudnitsky is an officer of the board that hired her, Morgan said “if I was a donor to [the REC] I would want to know about that.” Giving an out to the REC, Morgan did say that many non-profit “boards aren’t aware of what best practices are.”
Morgan also said that “ethical transparency” for non-profits includes having a website with the mission statement and board of directors publicly available before soliciting money from the community. More importantly, and required by law, non-profits are to register with the Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations (BCCO) before collecting donations; the REC is not currently registered with the BCCO.
Starting a community center usually takes years of planning. Missing the mark when choosing the initial director can quickly lead to disasters or expensive bailouts. An abnormally quick pace collecting so much money raises questions of its own, a lack of transparency in choosing who will oversee that bank account is scary. A lack of transparency and an appearance of nepotism in appointing someone to oversee children’s programming, however, is terrifying.