By Robert Field
Statements in the below obituary of Dick Shellenberger are shameful and we blame the editors and publisher of LNP for allowing and likely encouraging the almost decade long distortions. This was an opportunity to imply “mea culpa” for their long going, self serving, no holds barred role in the Lancaster Convention Center project.
The owners of the newspapers are a fifty percent partner of the hotel portion of the project that the commissioners dared to question, The hotel was to be largely funded by the taxpayers, including no property taxes, a taxpayer subsidized interest rate, and a. sweetheart deal exploitive of the Convention Center revenue. Failure of convention centers elsewhere suggested that possible insolvency would create a later further burden on taxpayers.
Yes, Dick Shellenberger and the other county commissioners “pleaded guilty in 2006 to violating the state’s open-meetings law in discussing the sale of the Conestoga View nursing home the year before” but this was out of fear of the unknown after the almost year long ordeal and repeated interrogations by an ambitious district attorney.
The investigation was repeatedly delayed by ongoing addition of over twenty new accusations, one brought after another, all rejected by the Grand Jury. Nevertheless, the newspapers reported their plea to a minor misdemeanor as though it was the end of the Second Word War, continuing coverage for three days straight. It was a vicious hatchet job.
When actually made public, the Grand Jury Report exonerated the commissioners of each and every accusation. The anger of the jurors towards the district attorney can be sensed in the report through a discerning reading.
The grand jurors on their own initiative went on to describe the Sunshine Law as unenforcible and called for revisions. Moreover, a real violation of the Sunshine Act would not have applied in this case since the commissioners were following the advice of the County Solicitor, a condition that exempted them under the law.
But as mentioned above the commissioners had not been allowed to see the Grand Jury Report before they accepted minor fines ($100) for their alleged indiscretion.
Theirs was a phony plea extracted from three honest, hard working public servants by extreme threat of possible felony charges and year long duress. The history of this infamous episode in Lancaster history can be read at Chapter 23 Revised: The Inquisition:.
Dick Shellenberger was an avowed Conservative Republican. As such, he did not believe that the county should be in the nursing home business.
The vehement objections to the sale brought by former mayor and columnist Art Morris were undoubtedly sincerely motivated but mistaken. Contrary to Morris’ predictions, the nursing home under private ownership over time maintained the same State quality ratings.
Whatever actions Shellenberger took, they were meant to best serve the public.
“May his memory be for a blessing.”.
For the full history of probably the most sordid decade of Lancaster history, please visit “Convention Center Series“.
Shellenberger, 72, was elected as a Republican commissioner in 2003 and served one term from 2004-2007.
“Dick was a true gentleman; a man of strong Christian faith who was devoted to family and to the Lancaster County community,” former State Rep. Gordon Denlinger said.
Denlinger said he volunteered on Shellenberger’s commissioner campaign and the two also had many professional interactions during the years their elected service overlapped.
“Throughout his public service career Dick held fast to conservative principles, but a love for people was also important in the decisions he faced along the way,” Denlinger said.
Prior to taking office, Shellenberger owned and operated the former Eatery at Granite Run in Manheim Township. He sold the restaurant in 2004. Before that, he was in charge of the retail division of Kreider Farms.
The cause and place of death are still unclear. Shellenberger is survived by his wife, Pam, a son, Richie Shellenberger and a daughter, Missy Jeanes. Family members were not immediately available.
Beau Eckert, Shellenberger’s pastor at Calvary Church in Lancaster, said funeral arrangements would be made in the coming days.
As his successes, supporters pointed to $5 million in funding Shellenberger brought to farmland preservation and his stance against the downtown convention center and hotel, according to reports.
However, his time in office was also marked by controversy. He and his fellow commissioners, Pete Shaub and Molly Henderson, pleaded guilty in 2006 to violating the state’s open-meetings law in discussing the sale of the Conestoga View nursing home the year before.up
Questions were also raised over Shellenberger’s role in the hiring of Gary Heinke as the county’s chief services officer. It was alleged Shellenberger had manipulated the hiring of Heinke, who eventually resigned over questions about his résumé, according to newspaper reports.
“My family will be praying for the Shellenberger family,” Shaub, also a Republican, said Tuesday. “He is in a better place now.”
Henderson, a Democrat, said Shellenberger tried to research whatever issue was at hand and was open to hearing from staff.
“I always found Dick Shellenberger to be a forthright and honest man who wanted to do public service, and I always enjoyed working with him,” she said.