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Michael Fedor

Two board members with the now defunct Pennsylvania League of Conservation Voters question their former executive director's ability to lead Cumberland County - an opinion which he disputes.

Democratic commissioner hopeful Michael Fedor was at the helm of the political advocacy organization, which worked on environmental politics in the state, for nearly two years between fall 2005 and summer 2007.

Under his leadership, past board chairs Jan Jarrett and George Martin said, the organization went too far into debt to recover.

Jarrett said more than $107,000 in bills went unpaid as the Pennsylvania LCV, a former state-based partner of the national League of Conservation Voters, closed up shop in 2007. The Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania has since emerged as a new partner of the LCV.

"During his time, he mismanaged the league's funds," said Jarrett, the president and chief executive officer of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture). "We had to shut it down and go out of business."

She said the board was kept in the dark about the organization's financial state for at least six months. By that point, it was too late.

According to minutes from a joint meeting on July 13, 2007, of the Pennsylvania LCV and Pennsylvania Conservation Voters Education League - sister organizations headed up by Fedor - the single item of business was the state of the finances and the question of the upcoming payroll. The joint checking account had just $130 at the time and there were several bills outstanding.

Fedor and another office employee were laid off, effective immediately, due to the lack of funds.

Not accurate

Fedor, who moved on to become the director of the Central Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, a position he still holds, called the story of his past a "mischaracterization."

"I don't think any of that is accurate," he said of the claims made. "I definitely did not keep the board in the dark."

He doesn't feel like he was in over his head when he was running the PALCV. He said the board had a different take about the future direction of the organization.

"At the end of the day, they made the decision to stop my efforts. I respect the decision they made," Fedor said.

He characterized his behavior at the time as "aggressive," and said it's not uncommon for organizations working in politics to take on short-term debts and expenses.

"You do it in the heat of the campaign to try and win," he said. "You have to be aggressive."

The outstanding debts were there from the 2006 election cycle, he said, and money needed to be raised in 2007 to pay them.

He pegs the debt around $25,000 and said the LCV was capable of getting back into the black.

Fedor said the goal was to build an aggressive organization that could win elections.

"We went into the red trying to win some elections," he stated. "I think we could have done more to push the board to raise money more aggressively. The board has to step up, too. I think we definitely could have raised that."

Factors

The key decision that sent the organization spiraling downward was an upgrade of the league's website, Jarrett noted.

"He entered into a contract that the board directed him not to do," she said of Fedor. "It had a hefty price tag on it. He came with a proposal and we said, ‘No, not until you have the money to finance it.'"

The nonprofit organization, which advocated for sound environmental policies and to elect pro-environmental candidates, relied almost entirely on donations to function. It had both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) entities - the latter allowing it to participate directly in elections and lobby for legislation.

The bills were never paid, according to Jarrett. Those bills included $39,500 to JPL Productions of Harrisburg for the website work, she said in an emailed list of the organization's debt.

"When it became clear that we were not going to be able to pull out of it, there was no way to interest donors," she said. "It was a difficult decision to simply close down."

Martin, a founding partner in a Philadelphia law firm, said Fedor made financial commitments "far in excess" of the organization's ability to raise money.

"He was creating a hole we were never going to climb out of," Martin said. "He did not fundraise as he was expected to."

Different directions

Both Jarrett and Martin said they believe Fedor came in with good intentions, but that he got in over his head.

Jarrett called it "youthful inexperience" and said she believes Fedor panicked.

"I don't believe Michael did anything with any criminal intent," she said. "He didn't steal money. He just got in over his head and definitely tried to cover the true condition, hoping money would fall out of the sky."

Neither has had much, if any, contact with Fedor since he was laid off by the organization.

But both are aware he is running for county commissioner.

"Unless there has been a substantial change in Michael, he would again be far over his head in assuming any major position," Martin said.

Jarrett said his experience with the league raises "legitimate concern" about Fedor's ability to lead the county as one of its three commissioners.

New experience

Fedor's current leadership role is much different than his previous role, he says.

"I think it comes down to different organizations," he said. "At the end of the day, we just were not in agreement about the direction of the organization."

Mary Schwanger, director of AFSCME District Council 90, who has worked with Fedor for the last four years as past chair of the Central Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation and as a current board member, said she has nothing but "glowing" things to say about his leadership.

She used terms like "conscientious," "hard working" and "dependable" to describe the job he has done with the federation.

Fedor is responsible for the day-to-day operations, as well as working with the board to develop annual budgets and plans for the future.

The annual budget is about $300,000, which comes from AFL-CIO affiliates, fundraising efforts and grants.

"I feel very lucky that we've had Michael as our director," Schwanger said, adding that he is very transparent and responsible when it comes to organization finance. "He is very much a team player."

He is "absolutely" capable of leading Cumberland County as one of its three commissioners, she said.

Carlisle Borough Councilman Tim Scott said he met Fedor only at the start of this campaign effort for county commissioner. However, in a few short months, Scott said, he has been very impressed with Fedor.

"He is thoughtful and willing to consider both sides of an issue," Scott said.

Fedor was also the only candidate to show up at Scott's voter registration drive in Carlisle this past Sunday.

"I was very impressed by that," Scott said.

In the May 17 primary election, Fedor is hoping to earn one of the two Democratic spots that will be on the general election ballot in November.

He is being challenged by Carlisle Borough Council President Sean Shultz and East Pennsboro Township Commissioner Jim Hertzler.

Two Democrats and two Republicans, along with any third-party candidates that may emerge, will face off in November for all three four-year seats on the board.

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