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Oregon Village opponents criticize 2 Manheim Twp. commissioners for taking campaign cash from developer

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Manheim Township commissioners, from left, David Heck, Al Kling and Donna DiMeo listen to testimony April 22, 2019 during the conditional use hearing for the proposed 76-acre Oregon Village development.

A citizens group opposed to the proposed 76-acre Oregon Village development has called on two Manheim Township commissioners to withdraw from voting on the project because they accepted campaign contributions from the developer.

The two commissioners responded to the criticism by saying they won’t recuse themselves, but will return the money.

Citing campaign finance reports, Respect Farmland said in a press release Friday that four members of the Hurst family, owners of the Oregon Dairy complex, each contributed $240 or $245 to benefit commissioners Al Kling and David Heck, who are Republicans seeking re-election this year.

The Hurst family contributed a total of $965 to the Friends of Heck and Kling political action committee last September, the same month the family submitted its development plans for township approval.

Kling, who chairs the board of commissioners, told LNP that he and Heck will not be recusing themselves from the vote, which is scheduled for Monday, June 24, but will return the money.

“I don’t think I have a reputation for being dishonest,” Kling said. “Rather than have anybody allege it, it’s not that much money; we’ll give it back.”

“If they think $240 buys my vote, they’re mistaken,” he said.

The commissioners will decide whether to grant the Hursts a conditional use to build the $120-million project on two sites along Oregon Pike. It would include 554 housing units, an expanded supermarket, a 120-room hotel, restaurants, a bank and retail.

As required by state law, Heck and Kling's political action committee filed a listing of contributors in a publicly available campaign finance report.

“We weren’t hiding nothing,” Kling said.

The commissioner said the campaign team sent a solicitation letter to potential donors last September and the Hursts responded.

“They apparently like fiscally conservative management in the township,” Kling said. “To say we’re in their pocket, that’s baloney.”

Heck in an email said, "I have never allowed any campaign donations to influence my decisions on township matters."

The Hursts did not contribute to the other three commissioners, Respect Farmland said. The three are not up for re-election this year.

“By accepting campaign money from the developers and failing to disclose it, commissioners Kling and Heck have discredited their impartiality in judging the Oregon Village proposal,” the Respect Farmland release said. "No apology or refund of the money can repair that ethical lapse."

Kling and Heck were unopposed in the GOP primary in May. They are opposed by Democrats Allison Troy and Barry Kauffman in November.

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