'Banned from the council clique': North York sees two more resignations

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

North York borough's council chambers increasingly resemble a revolving door.

Two new resignations announced Tuesday night bring the total to five in the last two years. Council member Deb Smith submitted a letter of resignation April 14, which was read to the public, while member Tina Strine announced her resignation toward the end of Tuesday's meeting.

"I had this big speech prepared, but at this point it really doesn't matter — but I am resigning from council," Strine said.

Smith, who was not present during the meeting, said in her resignation letter that she wished the borough "good luck" in the future. The council voted unanimously to accept Smith's resignation.

North York Borough Council member Deb Smith, Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Strine said she resigned because of the treatment she received from former council President Richard Shank and borough manager David Bolton.

"I've been accused of stealing, had the cops called on me and everything else — I'm just over all this," Strine said Tuesday night. "There's no way this borough is gonna get any better." 

Shank and Bolton did not respond to requests for comment.

Strine's comments were followed by a couple of "amens" from attending residents, who encouraged her to read the resignation letter she had prepared.

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Other recent resignations included council members Bill Jackson and Jamie Moore as well as Shank, who remained on the council but resigned as president.

When Strine joined the council, she said, she was tired of the negative publicity the borough had received and aimed to make the borough a better place. As time went on, she began to question decisions that she felt were not appropriate, she said in her letter.

"Once I started questioning the backdoor agendas of the councilmen, I was harassed and retaliated against," Strine said. "I was banned from the council clique — or some of you would say the good 'ol boys club."

North York Borough Council meeting, Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

After she started speaking out, Strine said, she was met with unanswered emails and accused of creating a "hostile work environment." 

"I could not fathom the years Councilwoman Vivian Amspacher has endured all the belittling, slander and retaliation from Richard Shank," Strine said. "I admire her dedication for standing up to what is right."

Prior to announcing her resignation, Strine told the council that Amspacher had received the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs Distinguished Service Award.

Strine then walked out of the meeting before it adjourned.

Before the meeting ended, Mayor Nancy Brunk said she was "overwhelmed with sadness" at seeing hatred in the borough. She added that the atmosphere has gotten worse in the past two years.

"How can we expect change in our community with such negativity?" Brunk said. "People need to work together in order for the community to grow."

In recent years, North York has been mired in a slew of controversies.

In February, tax collector Keith Ramsay resigned following an array of criminal charges and allegations of sexual harassment after a councilperson — who The Dispatch has not named publicly because they are an alleged victim of sexual misconduct — filed a civil protection from abuse order against him late last year.

And in 2020, former fire chief Stephen Miller was charged with embezzling more than $16,000 from the now-disbanded Liberty Fire Co. between 2015 and 2019. He will return to court later this year.

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An audit commissioned by the borough looking into the fire company's finances showed a "high likelihood" that fire company assets were "misappropriated" by Miller. The audit was released after a yearlong fight in court for transparency and access led by The York Dispatch and other local media. 

The audit, completed by RKL LLP, pointed to close to $15,500 in "suspicious" withdrawals from the fire company's general account, with about $5,600 more in questionable withdrawals from the fire company's account for its social hall, according to the report. 

Miller is charged with two third-degree felony counts of theft and a third-degree felony count of receiving stolen property. He is free on $15,000 unsecured bail, which means he didn't post money up front, but he could be penalized up to that amount if he misses any court dates.

That's the backdrop to a spate of resignations in recent years.

Jackson, the council's former vice president, resigned in October 2020 following the news of Miller's criminal charges.

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Moore was promoted to vice president after Jackson's departure only to announce her own resignation that December — although she said her resignation was not politically motivated.

In March 2020, however, Moore had stormed out of a meeting and threatened to resign following disagreements with Shank over the release of the forensic audit of Liberty Fire Co.

Most recently, Shank resigned as president this March and now sits on the council as a regular member. 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.