Newberry Twp. official: I was targeted after questioning supervisor's fee exemption

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
The Newberry Township Municipal complex Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Newberry Township supervisors earlier this year debated exempting a supervisor's business from a proposed mercantile fee, which, the local tax collector claims, is among the reasons the board now aims to oust her from town hall. 

Debra Popp, who's served as the township's tax collector for 26 years, said she told Supervisor Clair Wintermyer in August that it didn't look good for the township to propose a licensing fee for all businesses except salvage yards when a sitting board member owns a salvage yard.

Wintermyer owns Wintermyer Auto Salvage on Lewisberry Road.

"I said, 'Clair ... you want to tax or put a fee on every other business except your own?' And he flipped out on me," she said. "I mean, he flipped out."

The Board of Supervisors voted on Aug. 25 to direct the township's solicitor to investigate whether it would be legal to exempt salvage yards from a licensing fee.

Wintermyer did not recuse himself from the vote, which was unanimous.

The mercantile license fee proposal ultimately died when the board decided it wasn't the right time to add another fee to businesses because of the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19, township manager Tony Miller said.

But Popp said after she confronted Wintermyer, he and the other supervisors added locks to the internal administrative offices and began to push for her office to be moved out of the township building and into the sewer building.

At the time, Christie Fournier worked as the township's administrative assistant and sewer administrator.

Fournier said that the day after Popp confronted Wintermyer about the mercantile license, Wintermyer told Fournier he would resign if Popp's office wasn't moved out of the township building by January. 

Wintermyer denied this Wednesday and said he never told Fournier he wanted Popp out of the office.

But he did confirm the township added locks to the internal administrative office to keep Popp out because he and other supervisors believe she's involved in leaking information to Newberry Township Breaking News, a local Facebook page that's critical of township officials.

Fournier, who resigned in September, said Popp only went into the administrative office to use the copy machine, and Popp has said she has nothing to do with the Facebook page.

Wintermyer said his issues with Popp have nothing to do with moving the tax collector's office to the sewer building.

"That problem’s solved now, but we do have an issue with room," he said.

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Popp rents an office at the township building for $200 a month. She said she pays for the office space herself for the safety, security and convenience of the residents and that the board's desire to move her office is about a personal issue they have with her, not about what's best for the residents of the township.

In an email sent Nov. 4, Wintermyer said Popp was to blame for Fournier's departure and that of former employee Darnell Musser in close succession and that Popp "bad mouths" the supervisors to the employees and that she "needs to go."

Supervisor Brandt Cook replied in agreement.

"True statement! Thanks Clair for telling it like it is! Deb needs to leave the township building," Cook wrote.

Supervisor Maxine Kauffman also agreed in her reply.

"Deb Popp needs an exit alright," Kauffman wrote.

This email thread was a response to a township resident who asked why the township had so much employee turnover. The resident provided the emails to Popp.

Musser, who worked as the township's administrative assistant from Aug. 18 to Oct. 30, said she left because of what she described as a tense and hostile work environment and that it had nothing to do with Popp.

Fournier also said her departure was not because of Popp.

At a Dec. 8 meeting, the board proposed moving Popp's office to the sewer building effective Feb. 1, claiming they needed more space at the township office.

But when Popp questioned this reasoning, Kauffman said it was "a tough situation" because of Newberry Township Breaking News and accused Popp of being involved with the Facebook page.

Popp said she's not involved in the page and told the supervisors it didn't make sense to change her office location in the middle of her term with only a month's notice.

The board also wants to increase her rent to $800 a month and prohibit her from participating in the township's medical insurance plan.

Popp said she pays 100% of her health insurance premium and that her participation doesn't cost the township anything. She said all of these changes are an attempt to intimidate her and get back at her for asking questions.

In March, Popp submitted a Right to Know Law request to the township for a copy of an audit report the township commissioned in 2019 from accounting firm McKonly & Asbury.

In an April 7 email from Miller to supervisors Wintermyer, Kauffman, Cook and Dave Kirkpatrick, the township manager said he had spoken to the township's attorney about the request.

"(W)onder how much this frivolous RTKL and appeal by our tax collector is costing the township? glad she still has her snooping office location," Miller said in the email.

Popp said Wintermyer gave her a copy of the email in April when they were still on good terms, before she questioned him about the mercantile license proposal.

Fournier said the proposals to move Popp's office, increase her rent and take away her insurance plan are a "witch hunt" to get Popp out of the township office.

"This is not about space," Fournier said.

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