Jan 25, 2008 — The mediator who will facilitate settlement talks between the county and the owners of Lauxmont Farms was the campaign chairman for President Commissioner Steve Chronister's re-election bid.

The mediation agreement names David P. Zambito, of Reger Rizzo Kavulich and Darnall of Harrisburg, as the lawyer responsible for assisting both sides in resolving the eminent domain dispute.

The hiring was unanimously approved by the commissioners Wednesday at their weekly board meeting.

The county is trying to resolve a legal dispute over its attempted seizure of 411 acres in Lower Windsor Township.

In 2005, then-commissioners Lori Mitrick and Doug Kilgore approved the use of eminent domain to take the land for a proposed heritage park project.

Chronister voted in dissent and sided with the Kohr family, which owns the property, in fighting the land seizure.

The county's move sparked a legal battle between the Kohrs and the county. The board later decided against taking the land, but the Kohrs now want to stop the county from backing out. The issue is stuck in court.

Now, the new commissioners board is hoping to reach a settlement and move on.

Zambito would only organize the mediation sessions, Chronister said, and would not be making any decisions.

Zambito could not be reached for comment Thursday. He will be paid $300 an hour for his work in the mediation talks.

Commissioner Doug Hoke said he was aware of the previous relationship between Chronister and Zambito when the hiring was approved.


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"I know the lawyer. I know he's well-respected, and I know he's honest," he said of Zambito.

John Snyder, lawyer for the Kohrs, said the family is also satisfied with Zambito and does not see a conflict of interest.

Chronister said he was the one who recommended Zambito. He praised Zambito as a fair "straight-shooter" whom the commissioners trusted.

"I suggested his name, and the other commissioners decided it was a good choice," he said.

Mitrick said she wonders if the selection was based more on friendship than on qualifications.

She said Zambito might be too close to Chronister, who was on the Kohr's side over the eminent domain issue. The relationship may not be in the county's best interest, she said.

"A mediator who was your campaign chairman and is your friend has the potential to taint the process," she said. "I believe the issue and the residents of the county deserve total objectivity."

Kilgore said he supports the mediation effort, but added that an appropriate mediator needs to be someone with no ties to the situation.

"It's like the good old boys are back in town again and anything goes," he said.

County Commissioner Chris Reilly said he conducted his own search and considered other candidates but ultimately believed Zambito was the best choice.

"This was a unanimous vote among the commissioners, so technically Mr. Chronister's voted didn't matter at all," Reilly said.

Last February, Zambito, as campaign chairman, had the regional law firm Saul Ewing contribute $1,000 to Chronister's campaign, Chronister said. Zambito once worked for the law firm.

However, Zambito did not participate in any Lauxmont Farms legal action at the time, said Snyder, who works for Saul Ewing. The contribution had nothing to do with the eminent domain issue, he said, and was one of many political contributions the national firm makes.

"I'm not afraid to admit if we made a mistake," Chronister said of the Lauxmont Farms eminent domain case. "If we did something wrong and we need to make a change, then we'll make a change."