Depending on who's to be believed, the pending litigation between Dover Township Sewer Authority and Pro-Electric is either a David vs. Goliath story about abuse of power or an unfortunate but unavoidable tough break for a small business.
York County President Commissioner Steve Chronister believes the former, and he held a press conference Thursday to encourage local, state, and federal jurisdictions to investigate why the authority isn't returning more than $400,000 in security the York-based electrical contractor deposited as a cash bond on a job it performed about four years ago.
Chronister said the refusal to return the money to business owner Deb Rinehart might amount to "bullying" and "corruption" by the "heavy hand of government," and he wants investigators to step in.
Rinehart said she leveraged her home and other assets to raise the security deposit, and she has spent another $230,000 on legal fees trying to reclaim her money. She said she thinks the sewer authority wants her to run out of money so she can't afford to keep fighting.
The allegations: ProElectric won a bid for electrical work on a $13 million upgrade to the wastewater authority, with the bulk of work being done in 2010.
Typically a bonding company would insure a deposit such as the one Rinehart made, but Rinehart said the bonding company bolted after a pre-construction meeting when a sewer authority engineer told Rinehart, "You're going to lose your ass on this project."
With no bonding company, Rinehart had to ante the money herself.
Rinehart said the work was completed on time insofar as her company was able to proceed after other contractors who were delaying the project; not all of the electrical work could be completed without other infrastructure having been completed, she said.
But Rinehart said that when the upgrade project ran behind schedule, ProElectric was forced to surrender its deposit. The sewer authority still has the money, she said.
"Give them their money back," Chronister said, aiming a remark at the authority and looking into a television camera.
He said he has sent requests to everyone from the FBI to York County District Attorney Tom Kearney, who has said he can find no indication of criminal wrongdoing on behalf of the sewer authority.
Pending litigation: The matter is tied up in Common Pleas court, but Rinehart said she's afraid she'll be broke before it's resolved, and she wants to warn other business owners.
"I don't for one minute think we're the only company this happened to," she said.
The authority has presented an alternate story in its supporting documents, saying ProElectric's delays are the reason the money wasn't returned.
Sewer authority solicitor Christian Miller declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Sewer authority president Dean Smith declined to comment for the same reason, but he said Chronister has not responded to his attempts to organize a meeting to discuss the authority's position on the issue.
— Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.