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October 29, 2009

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Campaign for Springfield Treasurer a heated contest

When Joan Parsons decided to e-mail the faculty and staff of the Springfield Township School District to introduce herself, she took her campaign from a quiet mission to replace current Township Treasurer Bonny Davis to a heated contest with the click of her mouse.

Republican Parsons is challenging Democrat Davis for the position, which oversee revenue collection for the Township with an annual budget of $17 million.

Parsons, who grew up in Chestnut Hill, used the school district’s Web site, which lists the faculty and staff, to contact the employees, introducing herself as a candidate for treasurer. The Democrats were appalled by what they considered a breach of public trust.

“It is an inappropriate use of school property,” said Adina Birnbaum, co-chair of the Springfield Township Democratic Party. “It’s pretty clear the school’s Web site is for school issues. It showed poor judgment.”

Birnbaum said some of the e-mail’s recipients were offended. The district responded with its own e-mail making sure the employees knew Parsons had not been authorized to contact them via the Web site.

The e-mail issue aside, Davis’ tenure as treasurer has been contentious almost from the beginning. The Board of Commissioners appointed Davis in January after previous treasurer Ken Bradley resigned because of illness. In April, Davis sent a seven-page letter to the Board outlining the obstacles and challenges of the position. In the letter, Davis described an office in chaos and an overwhelming amount of work that had been neglected by her predecessors.

“I think a lot of people have lied about this job,” she wrote. “I will not pretend checks came in later than they did. I will not lie and tell you this job is just ‘sending out bills.’”

Davis said the letter was sent during a difficult time in the transition when she was being criticized for not doing the job better, faster.

Davis was sworn in on Jan. 21 with a Feb. 1 deadline for sending out the tax bills looming. The bills went out two weeks late, but that did not stop the lions’ share of payments from coming on by the March 31 deadline. Davis said what was supposed to be a part-time job quickly became a round-the-clock endeavor.

“I work 40-50 hours a week at this position, and that is on top of my full-time job,” said Davis, who works as an accountant at Fesnak and Associates in Blue Bell.

According to Birnbaum, the letter was in response to repeated dogging by Chris Tomlinson, chair of Springfield Township’s Republican Committee.

“She is making $70,000 a year and she doesn’t make the deposits on time,” Tomlinson agreed. “The letter was in response to questions about her being behind of tax revenue.”

Birnbaum vehemently defend the job that has been done thus far.

“She had to step in with little time before the taxes were collected,” Birnbaum said. “She was handed an antiquated computer system that she has completely updated.”

Birnbaum was quick to point out that Davis’ office is now running smoothly - and more importantly - Davis is the only one out of the two candidates with relevant experience.

Parsons has worked as an accounts receivables clerk for more than 20 years. That is all well and good, Davis said, if the job were truly what some people, such as Tomlinson, want to believe it is “just sending out bills.”

“Money is coming in and her job is to get that money deposited - not to let it sit in her office,” Tomlinson said.

Not so, Davis said. The job is more complicated than that.

“During March there were 100 people lined up outside my office everyday and 100 more envelopes to open and be processed,” she said.

Each one of those people represents a different story, issue or question. Each check from a bank may be worth millions of dollars to the township, but it has to be credited to thousands of households.

Still Tomlinson said he thinks it is outrageous for Davis to complain when she is well compensated for her efforts.

“It’s outrageous to complain about a job you wanted and that you make $70,000 a year at,” he said.

Again the Democrats disagree. The treasurer position is not salaried, rather it is paid by each revenue-generating entity – the township, school district, waste authority, county and state. The hitch is that the treasurer has to pay for all of the office’s expenses, including rent, staff compensation, utilities and supplies. The take-home pay can be less than 30 percent of the income.

“I’m not complaining,” Davis said in response to Tomlinson’s criticism of her letter. “I’m explaining.”

 



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