Residents question eligibility of new Southern Tioga School Board member

BLOSSBURG – The eligibility of newly appointed Southern Tioga School Board member John Martin, of Mansfield, to serve on the board because of past business-related fines against him as owner of the Blossburg Beverage Co. was called into question last week after fines he had paid to the state Liquor Control Board were brought to light.

According to the LCB’s website, Martin had 26 checks returned for insufficient funds between 1994 and 2003, and one fine for selling or furnishing alcohol to a minor in 1991.

According to district solicitor Chris Lantz, who has been reviewing the claims since Friday, none of the information submitted, which he called “administrative,” gives rise to an infamous crime, pursuant to the state constitution, Act VI, Section 7, which refers to removal of a municipal officer.

An infamous crime, he said, would be something like fraud.

Board meetings have been long and tensions high as the district looks at closing another school, this time Blossburg Elementary School.

During Monday’s board meeting, the issue of Martin’s appointment was brought up by resident John Ritter, of Sullivan Township, who did not identify Martin but did aim questions at the four individuals on the nominating committee who recommended him for the position.

“I think there was a big failure in the vetting process,” Ritter said. “Maybe it wasn’t a big disqualifier, but there were things that were financial and things about selling to a minor (and) no one even asked that question.”

Board member Frank Kollar said the board is “looking into” the information presented.

Martin said Tuesday that he did not sell alcohol to an underage person, but one of his employees did.

“My recollection of it was they showed a fake ID, and that I was notified later after there were some other criminal activities the person was involved with. I did not let the employee go. It was an innocent mistake on his part,” he said.

It was the only time it has happened in his 36 years of owning the business, he added.

In all of the check cases, he added, the overdrafts were corrected even before it was known by the company and, in all cases, before they were known by the Liquor Control Board.

Martin said he plans on serving on the board and running again in the fall general election.

“I may have suffered public humiliation, but I think, if anything, this demonstrates my strength, dedication and determination to do the job,” he said.

Martin said he has “served on a lot of boards over the years, including that of chairman of the Tioga County Industrial Authority,” a position he still holds.

“I have been supportive of the district for years and am committed to all students in all the communities. I want to help the school district get over this hurdle and move on to what is important and needs to be done. Somehow we need to get beyond bricks and mortar and move on to the business of education,” he added.

Despite the current distraction, Martin said members of the board have shown a lot of support for him.

“I certainly didn’t want to be a distraction from the real work of the district. It has been humbling the support I have gotten. I have detractors, I understand that, but I plan on doing the best job possible for the district,” he said.

In a statement issued Friday, board President Ivan Erway confirmed that residents contacted the district and questioned the eligibility of a school director. He didn’t identify the director as Martin.

“The district has asked the solicitor to review this matter and advise the board,” the statement read. “The district is currently going through a difficult consolidation process that is necessary because of cuts in state and federal funding, substantial decrease in enrollment and limits on how the district can raise revenue pursuant to the Taxpayer Relief Act.

“School board members are all unpaid volunteers. It takes a substantial amount of time and commitment to serve on the school board,” it continued. “Because of the difficult decisions facing the board, tensions in the community have been on the rise. It is unfortunate for everyone involved that issues like this are coming to the forefront.”