Cappelli connections on 2 sides of river
“The world is full of conspiracy theorists.”
That’s what Steven W. Cappelli, 54, told the Sun-Gazette recently.
Cappelli, a former city mayor, state representative and South Williamsport native, was hired Aug. 13 as South Williamsport borough manager at an annual salary of $70,000.
Cappelli will have an assistant, as borough council appointed Maria Maddy, borough treasurer and an 11-year borough employee, to be assistant borough manager and treasurer at an annual salary of $50,000. Her salary prior to that was $40,000.
While he is employed by South Williamsport as borough manager, Cappelli said he also plans to keep his executive-level position with Henry Dunn Inc., an insurance company, one of two firms that provide insurance to the city of Williamsport.
Meanwhile, the former borough manager, Michael D. Miller, vacated that position on Aug. 1 when he became the executive director of the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority. As borough manager, Miller was paid $69,000 annually and did not have an assistant. He was hired to be borough manager when his father, William R. Miller Jr., was borough mayor.
Cappelli, chairman of the water authority, voted on June 20 with the rest of the authority board to hire Miller to succeed Wendy Walter, who was interim executive director, at an annual salary of $130,000.
Miller had been an aide to Cappelli when Cappelli was a state representative more than a decade ago. Miller said he was interviewed by an authority committee that included board members Eiderson Dean, Cindi Perry, Andree Phillips and Thomas Marnon, who at the time was chairman of the water authority.
Cappelli indicated he plans to remain on the water authority as its chairman. In an interview with the Sun-Gazette, he reflected on how he believes his experience in politics and an engineering degree could benefit the authority and borough.
“I don’t want to be on it (the authority board), but with the challenges ahead, I believe I can help the board and the staff with the problems, collectively, on both sides of the river,” he said.
Cappelli served as city mayor from 1996 to 2000 and in the state House of Representatives from 2001 to 2009.
“My experience with the city, election to the state House and executive-level management lend itself here (the borough),” Cappelli said. “I will be a full-time manager, but can be anticipated to be out of the office sometimes.”
Those political ties and promises to visit Harrisburg to help the borough was a reason J. Bernard Schelb, borough council president, said Cappelli was selected over two other finalists for manager.
“Steve knows where to go for the funds,” Schelb said.
Cappelli applied for the job after seeing an advertisement in the Sun-Gazette in early July. The ad ran from from July 6 to 9.
Miller said he did not take part in council’s interviews for the borough manager. He was interested in the full-time executive director at the authority and remained clear other than rewriting or tweaking the advertisement authorized by John Decker, council’s personnel committee chairman.
Cappelli hinted he had some support ahead of time.
“There were people in the borough who thought I could be of assistance,” Cappelli said. Later, he clarified those were his family and friends. He declined to specify any one individual.
“I simply entertained a request to consider assisting the borough and went through the process as prescribed by law,” he said.
Nevertheless, close ties exist between the borough government and authority, according to one anonymous source familiar with members of the authority staff who are married to individuals on South Williamsport Borough Council.
‘A tight circle’
The source described “a tight circle” of relationships among people involved in the authority and borough government.
The borough and the authority share the same solicitor, Joseph Orso.
Asked about the “tight circle,” Orso acknowledged there might be people who are related to each other or who know each other. That’s because the borough is a small community, and the authority has about 100 employees, a number of whom live in the borough.
Cappelli also had support in borough government, including his brother-in-law, Councilman David Geise.
While Geise abstained from the Aug. 13 vote for manager, he was said to have been one of Cappelli’s supporters.
“We thought this was a positive in the borough in our eyes,” said Schelb, who was a zoning officer for the city while Cappelli was mayor. He dismissed that connection, adding, “I worked under several mayors.”
Cappelli’s connections to city government continue. He counts Mayor Gabriel J. Campana among his friends and political allies.
Each are supportive of each other, having a mutual understanding of what it takes to be city mayor.
For instance, in 2017, as Campana searched for ways to find revenue for the city coffers, the mayor suggested the city get a “valuation on the water and sanitary authority assets,” and seize them because, he said, they belonged to the city.
“I think it’s the mayor’s prerogative to create ways to bring in revenue and offset burdensome tax hikes,” Cappelli said at the time of the proposal.
The city mayor is responsible for nominating authority board members, with advice and consent of City Council. Campana took it a step further recently when he supported Cappelli in becoming chairman of the authority board.
The authority held a special meeting on May 15 following the release of a letter penned by Campana to the authority’s board.
That meeting was heated from the start.
Campana’s letter indicated he was upset about a situation in which he perceived an attempt by the authority leadership to control who sat on the board.
The letter indicated Marnon, then chairman of the water authority, and Johnny Meyer, then chairman of the sanitary authority, approached the mayor in his office and asked him to appoint two former board members to fill expired terms.
Campana also claimed Marnon and Meyer asked him not to renominate three board members to subsequent terms, Cappelli being among them. The other two were George Bierman and Perry.
Cappelli’s emotion over this letter was visible during the meeting when he slammed his fist on the table around which the board sat and accused Marnon and Meyer of going privately to the mayor without the board’s consent to seek a “super majority” vote.
The board voted 6-4 to name Cappelli as water authority chairman. Dean was elected as chairman of the sanitary authority, of which Cappelli had been chairman.
Marnon and Meyer remain on the board.
Cappelli said he is humbled by the opportunity to work for the borough as its manager and acknowledges his friends for their support.
“I have a fondness for South Williamsport,” he said.
He assured he isn’t using the job as a stepping stone for a position that might come open in Williamsport if the city electorate votes Nov. 6 to change the form of government from a strong mayor-council to a council-manager.
“Absolutely not,” Cappelli said. “I am here to try and help this borough for as long as it challenges me and for as long as it needs my help. I am not interested in any other elected or appointed position.”