The Borough of Conshohocken’s Solicitor is Wawa’s Lawyer Too?

First a little background…

The proposal to build a Wawa in Conshohocken is not actually proposed by Wawa itself (so my headline is satirical). It is proposed by Provco Pineville Fayette, LP., which based on the website created to support the proposal, is a partnership between Provco, a Villanova based real estate development company, and Goodman Properties, a similar company based in Jenkintown. So Wawa is not actually purchasing the property, Provco Pineville Fayette, LP is and its’ plan is to develop the property and lease to Wawa.

In the fall of 2010 when the desire to develop the Moore Chevrolet property as a Wawa became public, I begin to do a lot of research, some to answer my own questions and to verify some information provided by others. Most of this research involved Googling names and companies together to see what pops up.

One thing I discovered is that Michael Savona, the Solicitor for the Borough of Conshohocken, is a shareholder in a law firm called Friedman Schuman. The head of this firm is a Peter Friedman. If you Google “Peter Friedman” and “Bruce Goodman” you will end up on CorporationWiki and find they are partners in a company called Garden Fair Realty. You can also verify this by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Corporate Search.

So what did I have?  Basically that the lawyer that works for Conshy, is a shareholder in a law firm where the head of the firm is in business with one of the developers seeking to to bring a Super Wawa to Conshohocken.

To find out if this is unethical or not, I spoke to a couple of lawyers and I emailed someone involved with Ethics Law in New York to see what the actual case was.  They all agreed that is was a secondary connection and while it could be made to look bad, as long as Savona was upfront about it, it shouldn’t be an issue. So case closed, but I kept it in the back of my mind for two years.

November 14, 2012…

Today I was doing some research and I came across a story in the Abington Patch from October 24th about a proposed Wawa development.  Guess who the lawyer is representing Bruce Goodman?  Michael Savona, Conshy’s solicitor.

If you are not aware, the first presentation by Provco Pinetree in regards to the proposed Wawa will be at the Planning Commission on Tuesday, November 27th at 7:00 p.m. at the Washington Fire Company.  This will be the first of several steps in the approval process.

As part of the municipal government, the Planning Commission is provided counsel by the Borough Solicitor, who is Michael Savona.  I learned today that he has recused himself as it pertains to the proposed Wawa and Borough Manager Fran Marabella confirmed in an email that the Borough has yet to secure counsel to handle the proceedings involving this matter.

I was curious as to how long Savona has represented Goodman.  I emailed him and he responded:

My appearance before the Abington Planning Commission on behalf of Mr. Goodman’s project on October 23 was my first such engagement for any Wawa project.A

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the proposed Wawa development has been going on since the fall of 2010 and now just before the first presentation, the Borough’s solicitor recuses himself and represents Bruce Goodman in regards to a Wawa proposal in another town.

Now one may argue that since there was not an official proposal until recently, Savona wasn’t advising the Borough on anything to do with the proposed Wawa because there was nothing formally proposed to advise on.  But there was at least one thing.

On July 20, 2011 I emailed Borough Councilperson Matt Ryan, who is an agent for Legend Properties, to ask if he planned to recuse himself due to Bruce Goodman’s business relationship with Legend Properties.  As you can see below, Legend Properties listed Goodman as a reference on its website:

FYI, Goodman is no longer listed as a reference on a redesigned version of the website.  This screen cap was taken from an older reference page that was never deleted.

Ryan responded with the following:

I spoke to our solicitor about this issue, explained my relationship thru work with Goodman Properties and in his opinion there was no conflict.  I don’t represent Goodman Properties.

So during this pre-proposal period, Savona has advised at least one Borough official on an issue that pertains to the Wawa development.

So this situation generates a few questions:

  1. Savona stated in his email that his appearance on behalf of Goodman on October 23rd “was my first such engagement for any Wawa project.”  However, in the article from the Abington Patch, it states “Savona said the Abington Economic Development Committee is unanimously in favor of the development and said that he and his client have had extensive talks with PennDOT.”  Extensive?  That implies he has been involved in this project for a while.  So how long has he been working on this project and on what date did he recuse himself  from the Conshohocken issue?
  2. Since we know Savona provided counsel to at least one member of Borough Council (Ryan) as it pertains to the proposed Wawa, has he provided counsel on any other issues as it pertains to the proposed Wawa and what were those issues and his opinions?
  3. Since the first presentation is just two weeks away is there time for new counsel to familiarize himself or herself with Conshohocken and its codes, planning, etc, to properly represent the Borough?

Stay tuned for answers and follow-up.  What do you think about all of this Conshy?  Comments are open here and on Facebook.