INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
VOORHEES - The Township Committee adopted an amended bond ordinance this week to purchase a plot of land, drawing questions from residents who pointed out that a committeeman has a financial stake in the property.
The property is 3.62 acres on the eastern side of Lions Lake Park off Route 73.
Committeeman Gary Schlosser owned a 16.6 percent interest in the land until two years ago, when he transferred his holdings to two of his children. The rest of the land is owned by Schlosser's former partners, Foursome Associates L.L.C.
"I'm not saying this deal is wrong or bad," said Lori Volpe, president of the Voorhees Environmental and Recreational Alliance, "but we are purchasing land from a committee member. I think it casts suspicion, and I think it should have more scrutiny."
Volpe recounted that she had received three anonymous phone calls over the weekend, each warning her that the land purchase was corrupt. While not criticizing Schlosser, Volpe stated that the committeeman's role in the deal should have been expressed openly at the beginning of the process.
Committee members responded that the deal had been discussed in work sessions, a forum accessible to the public. Township Administrator Fred Mann said Schlosser had not participated in any of the conversations regarding the land purchase.
"This is only the first step," Mann added. "We're not purchasing ground tonight. It hasn't been secret."
"I understand that people would have suspicions," Mayor Gary Finger said, "but that's not the case here. This is good for the community."
Before the committee's meeting Monday night - when the bond ordinance was approved, 4-0, with Schlosser abstaining - Schlosser said in a phone conversation that he had done nothing wrong.
"I've stayed away from the decision," he said. "I've excused myself when there were talks about the property, and I've abstained from any votes on the bonding."
If the deal goes through, the township will convert the parcel into four softball fields.
The bond ordinance was originally approved in July. Of the $800,000 total, $500,000 was earmarked to buy Olt Farm, which lies next to Kresson Elementary School on School Lane, for use as softball fields. The remaining $300,000 was to have been used to buy open space.
The farm was not purchased, however, and the township now plans to use $350,000 of the bond money to buy the land near Lions Lake Park and negotiate for an additional half-acre. The remaining $450,000 is earmarked for open space.