Lyco OKs lease amid conflict of interest question

Lepley’s office pays tax-dollar rent to wife who owns building

JERSEY SHORE — Using tax money to pay rent to the wife of a local magistrate who leases space from her is not a conflict of interest, Lycoming County government’s attorney believes.

J. David Smith, solicitor for the commissioners, gave his official blessing to the board this week to approve a lease renewal for District Judge Jerry C. Lepley’s 3,400-square-foot office at 216 Market St., Jersey Shore, at $1,917 per month.

Smith provided his legal opinion on the matter after a constituent questioned whether the lease could pose a conflict of interest as Lepley’s wife, Tammy Lepley, owns the building in which his office is located. Smith said the building has been used as a district judge’s office for approximately 30 years due to its prime location. The contract has been awarded through an open and public process after being “thoroughly reviewed and vetted by the procurement department, which obviously has no ties to District Judge Lepley,” he said.

Likewise, the commissioners have no connection with Lepley or interest in the property, he said, adding that he believes the lease price is below fair market value for the area, as well.

“The analysis wouldn’t change if the building was for any other purpose. If Mrs. Lepley, for example, owned a building that the county wanted to use for a recycling facility, the same analysis would apply,” Smith said. “Long story short, I support the opinion that was originally given by my predecessor that this is a legitimate transaction for the commissioners to approve and there is no inappropriate conduct to the contrary.”

The issue arose at commissioners work session Tuesday, when Jersey Shore resident Todd Lauer commented on the expense of the area leased by Lepley, stating the price seems “awful steep.” He also asked the commissioners if they know who owns the building and was told it was Tammy Lepley, the magistrate’s wife.

The lease has an annual cost of $23,006 — or $1,917 per month — for the space at 216 Market St. The rate includes an annual increase of 3.5 percent for the 3,400-square-foot space.

The commissioners said the lease price is “very inexpensive” and the building is in the “perfect location.” The annual price equals about $6 per square foot.

Commissioners Jack McKernan, Tony Mussare and Rick Mirabito subsequently approved the lease agreement.

Magistrate judges are paid by the state while the county is in charge of the leasing agreement.