All Politics is Local

“Democracy Dies in Darkness” is the rather hyperbolic motto of the Washington Post.   It’s a motto that suggests that, but for the beacon of light that is the Washington Post, our free nation would disappear. It also smacks of pretension and a little bit of desperation from a major newspaper that has played a critical role in undermining the trust the American public had traditionally held in a free press.

Capture
The high water mark of the media

If that light the press proposes to shine is only showing a part of the story, or presenting stories only in a “certain light,” it’s really the other side of the story that is dying in darkness.

 

Many folks of my generation grew up with the belief that the news media was fair and objective.  That myth was shattered by the rise of alternate free news sources, like talk radio and the internet.  As the public grew increasingly used to getting their news for free, traditional print media, the home for in-depth investigative reporting and local beat reporting for school boards and municipalities, began to sink.  And while more and more people turn to news sources to present only the stories they want they way they want to see them, our country becomes more and more tribal in nature.  The trust the American public placed in the fourth estate’s claims of objectivity has been eroded, probably irrevocably.

While many understandably applaud the demise of the media, the crumbling of that public trust, and the overall declining appearance of straight reporting due to the fiscal decline of these organizations, has truly hurt us, especially on the local level.

I often get asked why I don’t write about national politics.  Simple:  Because we have more than enough people contributing to the din that is the national political landscape.

local elections matterAll politics is local, and I believe that local politics is more important, more immediate and has the most impact on the voter.  I’m not talking about Republican versus Democrat partisanship here, which only plays a small role in your local elections.  I’m talking about your schools, your roads, your safety, your community and your taxes.  There are plenty of people opining on National issues.  Who is talking about Upper Providence?  Who is talking about Montgomery County?  Who is talking about how state issues affect us locally?

The answer is, unfortunately, not too many people.  And there are fewer every day

Back in May, the Philadelphia Inquirer sounded the death knell on Montco’s main local papers, The Times Herald, the Mercury and the Reporter, all owned by Digital First Media.  For some reason, the Inquirer interviewed Montgomery County Commissioner, Val Arkoosh, about this issue.  And while I rarely ever agree with Arkoosh, at least on this issue, she’s spot on:

“How do citizens know who to vote for unless they take it upon themselves to do a substantial amount of their own research? There is virtually no coverage of school board meetings anymore. If you don’t have the time to watch the stream [of the school board meetings], how do you know what’s going on?”

Indeed, how does anyone know what your local government is doing?  What are your local elected officials doing for your community with your tax dollars and who is holding them accountable?

Who’s minding the store?

The whole article is worth a read (HERE), but the salient points are below:

Years of cost cuts at Digital First Media, the nation’s No. 3 newspaper chain with 48 million readers, are devastating newsrooms and fomenting employee dissent even as the hedge fund-controlled Digital First makes huge profits on beaten-down papers, where some reporters earn less than $30,000 a year.

Reporting and editing staffs at papers such as the Mercury have been decimated, newspaper buildings sold off for millions of dollars, and editing and writing functions centralized in distant hubs.

(…)

Experts now warn of “ghost papers” and a “turn-the-lights-out scenario” for many Digital First publications, even in well-off suburbs in Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties. As the company extracts profits from its newspapers it also fails to transform them into viable media assets for the digital age — despite its name.

The days of a regular reporter covering a “beat” of municipal and school board meetings disappeared long before this.  print is deadIn 2013, during the controversy surrounding the sale of Parkhouse, the Montgomery County-owned home for the aged and its surrounding 220 acres, as a member of the Board of Supervisors, I had to beg the editor of the local paper to please, send someone to provide coverage of our meetings.

In recent weeks, we’ve been inundated with articles about the missing millions in the Philadelphia budget.  But consider this:  the machinations that allowed the City of Philadelphia to “lose” $33 million dollars have been in place for years.  Philadelphia is a major metropolitan area with two major newspapers, four national network affiliates and no shortage of alternative media coverage.  Yet this problem went unnoticed for years until another elected official, City Councilman Alan Domb, brought attention to it.

Sure, there are stories about local political corruption outside of Philadelphia.  But rarely, if ever, are these stories the result of a curious media with a vibrant investigative department (indeed, the local media tend to label police departments “uncooperative” if they don’t regularly provide them with ready made “police blotter” content).  Most of these issues are covered because the reporter was given a tip or a newspaper was provided with a press release.

And the most likely source of that information was another politician with an agenda.  golf cigar beerThat agenda may have been for their own advancement, for political payback, the public good, or some combination of the three, but rest assured:  that source benefitted from the public airing of the story, or from the way the story was told in the press.  Powerful local politicians often cultivate effective relationships with local news reporters and editors, and the smart ones do it under the guise of friendship, over golf, cigars and beers with promises of that all-important, exclusive scoop.  Then that politician can control not only how the news is presented, but which news gets presented and which dies in the darkness.

And believe me, that happens far more than you’d like to think.

Here’s a fun story that’s been unfolding for several years.  Taxpayers were defrauded of millions of dollars in a PennDOT/contractor scam and charges were brought against the latest official early last month.  Inquirer again:

A former PennDOT official has been accused of accepting payments from an unnamed private contractor in exchange for paying the contractor with public money “even when the contractor did not perform the work,” state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement today.

The state charged Nicholas Martino with one count of “conflict of interest – restricted activities,” a felony. Martino, 53, who turned himself in, waived a preliminary hearing and was released on $10,000 unsecured bail. A message left at his suburban Norristown home was not returned.

The charges followed an investigation that began in 2013, under Shapiro’s predecessor, Kathleen Kane, who prosecuted a string of corruption cases against state officials until she herself was sentenced to prison for perjury and abuse of office.

 

Martino served as Assistant District Executive for PennDOT’s District Six, based in Norristown, between 2006 and 2014.

Kane’s office “received a tip about corruption” and “a cooperating witness gave evidence against Martino, who oversaw general maintenance and roadside management programs” in his state job.

According to Shapiro’s statement, “after a contractor who paid bribes to Martino did not perform the work for which they were paid to do, Martino looked the other way. He even had one Bucks County inspector fired for refusing to approve the work the contractor had not performed.”

Following a statewide investigating grand jury, ten PennDOT managers and employees were charged with accepting kickbacks from contractors in exchange for padded payments. Most of the charges were resolved without prison sentences.

i think we need more tax dollars
Maybe we should throw some more tax dollars down there, ya think?

“Most of the charges were resolved without prison sentences.”  Isn’t that nice?  A little bit of corruption among friends of the politcally connected is just baked into the cake.  Shapiro gets to put on his “tough on crime” hat with a positive headline while the actual criminals walk away with a slap on the wrist and your money.  What a deterrent.

 

Are you happy with this stewardship of your tax dollars?

Here’s another fun story in which NBC10 followed Norristown Council President Sonya Sanders’ to document her abuse of her parking privilege:

For more than a week, NBC10 Investigators observed Sanders parking habits. More than once, traffic enforcement officer passed by her car after seeing her borough-issued placard.

After requests for an interview, Sanders said in an emailed statement that she would no longer use the placard to park for work.

“I recently made an error in judgement in the use of the municipal parking placard,” she wrote. “To that end and out of an abundance of caution, I have asked the Municipal Administrator to redirect my entire June 2019 Council stipend to the Municipality’s General Fund, which will more than cover the relevant parking fees.”

In a follow email, Sanders said she meant her June 2018 stipend, which amounts to $402.

two cameramen
Crusading.

Do yourself a favor and click through to the link (again, HERE) and watch the 60 Minutes-esque video of this report, which you would be forgiven for thinking is the nation’s next Watergate due to it’s breathtaking seriousness.  This story was treated as a major expose, with hidden cameras and everything, and it’s difficult to figure out why such resources were dedicated to it, especially when NBC10 was among the last local news organizations to waddle in to the missing Philly millions story.  Look, I’m no fan of politicians abusing their privilege and while I find the entire story amusing, I’m still wondering who put NBC10 on the trail and why.

But the real head scratcher in this story is offered only as an afterthought:

 

Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny, who is also employed by Sanders as the Norristown Borough Solicitor, believed that Sanders parked in the courthouse staff garage when she was working for him at the Sheriff’s office. Kilkenny said he directed her to begin using the garage spot going forward.

Uh, wut?

Sanders works for Kilkenny at the Montco Sheriff’s office by day and by night, Kilkenney is employed by Sanders as Norristown’s solicitor.

sanders kilkenney
Sometimes she’s the boss.  Sometimes he’s the boss. Seems legit.

Yep, nothing to see here.  That’s not incestuous at all.  Just ignore that and watch how NBC10 is getting your $402 back.

 

We’ll take a swing down to Delco next, where Jessica McCusker, a 15-year employee of Upper Darby’s tax office, embezzeled $216,700 between 2012 and 2017.  Believe it or not, this story is from the Patch (yes, the Patch is still around.  I was just as surprised as you were.)

An investigation was launched on May 22, 2017 – one year prior to McCusker’s arrest and charges – after an Upper Darby official found cash receipts for payments of residents’ taxes in McCusker’s door, the DA’s office said.

Then a digital check of tax payment deposits showed they were not put into the township’s account, the DA’s office alleges.

She then was unable to explain why the receipts were in her desk and why they were not posted to the township accounts, according to the DA’s office.

Officials suspended her in June 2017 then county investigators interviewed her days later, the DA’s office said.

During the interview McCusker admitted to taking the money and using it to move with her children from her marital residence to an apartment, to rent the apartment, pay tuition, pay credit card debt, and to buy drugs, according to the DA’s office.

More great stewardship of your tax dollars.  And it was going on for five years.

We’ll go down to Delco again, where Rose Marie Lyons was charged with felony theft by deception, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and access device fraud between July of 2009 and December of 2015, while she served as president and recording secretary of the William Penn Education Support Personnel Association. Another inside job.  Delco Times:

A former employee of the William Penn School District allegedly stole more than $210,000 from the bank accounts for her fellow district employees’ union to support her gambling habit, according to criminal charges filed this week in district court.

Rose Marie Lyons allegedly then replaced some of the stolen union funds with her gambling winnings and other means, including stolen checks made payable to the school district and IRS refunds apparently belonging to people for whom she prepared income tax returns, the charging document indicates.

Lyons, 52, of the 2500 block of North Jefferson Street in Wilmington, Del., and formerly of Delaware County, surrendered Tuesday at Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division headquarters. She was accompanied by her defense attorney, Robert C. Keller.

Lyons was released on $100,000 unsecured bail.

According to Keller, Lyons is now retired from her school district job, which he described as “an administrative role.”

This is just a sampling of public dollars being mismanaged within institutions that are entrusted to spend it wisely, by folks who are already drawing a paycheck on public dollars.  Imagine what is simply slipping under the radar.

Still wondering why I only talk about local issues?

If you are one of those people inclined to complain about national issues and you are not paying attention to what’s going on in your own backyard, then you, sir or madam, are part of the problem.  Government left to its own devices grows corrupt rather quickly.  We used to rely on the local press as a watchdog on our government.  But the local press has been ineffective for years.

With local news, you can’t depend on anyone other than YOU, the taxpaying citizen, to mind the store.  Keep yourself informed, whether it’s reading local blogs (there are several good ones in the right hand column of this blog) attending meetings, or watching online.

The other side of the story dies in darkness.  And democracy dies in apathy.
corruption

UPT Board Meeting Notes 6/18/18 Episode 10: Wreck Creation

The June 18 meeting is another marathon session of 2 hours and 15 minutes, however, I’m beginning to see the benefit for Pearson to doggedly continue with these self-indulgent morality tales at the beginning of each meeting:  First, it allows him to believe he is a wise, but benevolent, leader of the community, imparting wisdom from his lofty heights on to his guileless, but nevertheless worthy, subjects.  Second, it buys him time, however short, to wallow in his illusion of competent leadership before reality comes crashing down on his head.  This week it comes during public comment at 4:30 seconds in.

Cell-abrasion

Tom Grasso, Providence Corners HOA President, approaches to remark upon the Cellco decision by the Zoning Hearing Board earlier in the week (for background on this issue, see HERE and HERE).

I’ll let his comments speak for themselves:

I’d like to take this time to remind the Board of Supervisors of the responsibility they have to all the members and residents of Upper Providence Township.  That responsibility is to do what is in the best interests of all residents, not just to benefit those that maybe are a handful of their friends.  There was recently a use variance application brought forth for the installation of 100’ cell tower on a property zoned residential.  The Township Code clearly states, “Communication towers are prohibited in a residential zone.”  The Code also references a 75’ height restriction for structures in a residential area as well.

As is customarily the case, the Township Planning Commission reviewed the application.  I think it’s important that we refresh ourselves with the duties and purpose of the Planning Commission.  Quote:  “The Planning Commission’s members review the development proposals for the Township, work in conjunction with Planning & Zoning to determine a project’s feasibility, impact on the surrounding area, and traffic in compliance with Township codes.  The Planning Commission submits development plans with their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for approval.” End quote.  That’s directly from the Township’s website.

In this case, the Planning Commission did their work, reviewed the application and voted unanimously to recommend that this Board oppose the application that I am speaking of.  And on 10/16/2017, this Board did exactly that and voted unanimously to authorize the Township Solicitor to oppose the relief sought by the applicant in the Zoning Hearing Board case 2017-07, Cellco d/b/a Verizon Wireless, on behalf of the residents.  The applicant sought, and was granted, several continuances to delay their hearing, hoping to avoid the protests of residents.  They later approached this Board again, on 11/20/2017, with changes to their application, hoping that the Board would remove its opposition.  The Board sent them back to the Planning Commission to make their case.  In that meeting, Mr. Barker stated, that this Board rarely, almost never, goes against the recommendation of the Planning Commission for as long as he’s been on the Board.

The applicant again went before the Planning Commission, they reviewed the application, changes and all, and again, unanimously voted to recommend that the Board oppose the application.  However, on 2/5 of this year, surprisingly, in an unprecedented manner, this Board voted and decided to withdraw the Township’s opposition and go against the recommendation of their own Planning Commission.

Why would three brand new members only one month into their new roles, reverse a decision made only a few months prior and countermand the recommendation of their own Planning Commission without really knowing the facts of the situation?

It makes no sense to me.

Mr. Pearson said that he wanted to remain neutral, and was apt to let the hearing board do its job.  In this same Board of Supervisors meeting, Mr. Pearson said to me, and other residents of the community, that we were free to make our case to the Zoning Hearing Board.  However, on multiple occasions, the Zoning Hearing Board solicitor, Mr. Khoury, prevented residents from asking follow up questions of new information presented by witnesses, stating, we already had a chance to ask a question.  He even prevented one of the Board members, who eventually voted against the application, from asking questions during the hearing when the member’s questions started to get into the proof of hardship.

Mr. Pearson, other Board members, you ran for your seats in 2017 on a platform of transparency. At the time, I believe you cited an inappropriate relationship between having a Director of Parks and Recreation be employed by the Township when that person was married to a Township Supervisor.  However, members of the Board have failed to disclose to the residents their own conflicts of interest.  For example, Mr. Pearson voted to remove opposition, but failed to inform anyone that his long-time companion, with whom he shares a residence with, is a member of the Zoning Hearing Board, and voted in favor of the application.

Mr. Bresnan stated in the 2/5 meeting, that the applicant had the burden of proof to prove a hardship.  I sat through every part of that meeting and searched for evidence of a hardship for either the property owner nor the cell phone company, but none existed.  It’s shocking that our neighbors in Lower Providence Township came upon the exact same situation, the exact same lawyer, the exact same issues, providing the exact same evidence, and yet their residents were protected by voting unanimously against, and denying the application.

However, our Township, and our Zoning Hearing Board, in spite of the applicant not proving that any hardship existed, voted to approve this application.

It’s puzzling to me why the applicant was not instructed to research other sites that within the search criteria that were not zoned residential.  For example, one of the members of the Zoning Hearing Board, who also sits on the Spring-Ford Area School Board, said that if they had contacted the School District, the School District would be open to discussions of a possible additional source of revenue.  If the applicant must prove that all avenues were exhausted, that was not proven during this period.

I’m not against progress, I’m not against cellular technology.  I recognize the advances that are being made, the infrastructure that is needed to meet these growing demands.  However, cell towers do not belong in the residential area, period.  And I know you all agree with me, because you wrote it into our Township Code.  There are plenty of other areas that could accommodate such requests. By your same logic, I should be able to get relief from the Township code for just about anything, including a 100’ cell tower on my own property, simply because I want the rental income, because one day, I’m going to retire as well.  Everyone’s actions have consequences, and I’d like to remind you of that.  I only urge you to do the right thing for all the residents of this community, rather than just for a small group of well-connected cronies.

Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan then attempts to do a little damage control on behalf of the majority of the Board, stating that the Planning Commission’s recommendation is not absolute and that essentially, the Board wants to remain independent from the Zoning Hearing Board, but he refuses to wade into the admittedly deep waters of Grasso’s cronyism accusation.

Barker disagrees with Bresnan, states that the Board sent the Solicitor to oppose this application to defend our ordinance, and that the Planning Commission recommended opposing the application on those grounds.  He also notes that at one time, this Board was following the Planning Commission recommendations and now they are not.

Pearson does not address any of this.

Conflit of interestAs an aside, I would note that the member of the Zoning Hearing Board of which Mr. Grasso spoke is Gail Latch, who is not only John Pearson’s long-time companion, but was elevated to the status of “fiancé” back in 2010 upon his election that year, in order for her to qualify for Township health care benefits.

Another resident comes up (his name is not picked up by the microphones) and asks a few follow up questions about the Zoning Hearing Board decision, and says, “Well it seems that the building goes against the Code.  So who is defending the Code?”

Bresnan attempts to make a case that with this action, the Zoning Hearing Board is actually defending the Code by deciding which applications will be getting relief.

Pillow TalkIn answer to that, there is some discussion as to whether the decision will be appealed and who can be a party to the appeal process.   I hope the residents decide to appeal.

Exit question:  If the entire purpose of withdrawing the Township Solicitor from opposing this application was to maintain the independence of the Zoning Hearing Board, how exactly, is that independence accomplished when John Pearson, the Chairman of the Board, is living with, and “engaged” to Gail Latch, a member of the Zoning Hearing Board?

Spares Lane

Following the discussion regarding this development at the previous meeting, (see HERE) Attorney Mike Clement presents the applicant’s proposal to the Board:  the Developer will pay fees in lieu of development in the amount of $55,000, with $15,000 being used to widen Spares Lane for approximately 215 feet.  The Developer will place the remaining $40,000 in escrow, which they will give to the Township for Spares Lane improvements at the Township’s discretion.  But if the Township decides that Spares Lane needs a mill and overlay (which it does), the Developer can do it cheaper than the Township due to prevailing wage, and they will use money from the established $40,000 escrow for that.

Vagnozzi has talked to the residents and wants to be sure that any paving and or widening will blend with the existing lawns, and that the Township will be able to direct placement of trees.  Vagnozzi wants a commitment from the Board to look at widening the intersection of Spares and 29.

Wreck-creation

There have been some decisions made by (at least three members of) the Board with regard to the future of programming at the Township Recreation Center.  Those changes have apparently been communicated to current members of the Rec Center, but not the Township population at large (not even in the recently mailed Township Newsletter, but more on that later).

Once again, a “staff-prepared” power point is used in service to distance the Board from their own decisions, and, once again, Township Manager Tim Tieperman is tasked with presentation.

I would guess that for most residents of Upper Providence, this meeting is the first time they are hearing anything about “programming changes” at the Rec Center.  Tieperman begins by dispelling rumors that the Rec Center is closing, the proceeds to lay out a “vision” for the Rec Center going forward.

Articulating a “vision” for an entire department in the Township is a pretty bold move when two of the five Supervisors have obviously been shut out of any of these discussions.  But lets put that thought on hold for a moment and see what “staff” has come up with.

The format and approach is similar to that of the special Fire and EMS presentation last April:

  • Department Re-Org
  • Challenges/Barriers
  • Establishment of Goals
  • Reviewing Staff Recommendations
  • Proposed Roadmap and Milestones

A selection of slides from the presentation follows:

1 Rec

2 Rec

Tieperman talked about the Center’s focus on fitness oriented in a fitness saturated market and the limitation of the facility’s size and scope as compared to other fitness center choices in the private sector.  He also talked about the proliferation of private sector competition and the Township’s desire not to compete with private businesses.

Tieperman acknowledged that the Township needs to improve its marketing but this would have minimal impact on the competitive dynamic.  A feasibility study for the Rec Center was completed 11 years ago targeting 4% resident participation in the Rec Center.  The ultimate goal is to reallocate the $417,000 Rec Center budget to touch on more people–the goal being 15% to 20% of the population.

3 Rec

4 Rec

There was much discussion on the existing private businesses located both within the Township (those facilities highlighted in yellow in the slide above) and within two miles of the Township’s border.  A visual of local fitness centers via Google Earth is illustrated in the graphic below:

5 Rec

6 Rec

Remember that $360,740 expense number in the slide above.  It comes up several times in the ensuing discussion.

The 10 Step Goals of the Restructuring are as follows:

8 Rec9 Rec10 Rec11 Rec12 Rec13 Rec14 Rec15 Rec16 Rec17 Rec

 

Township Reccomendations follow:

18 Rec19 Rec20 Rec21 Rec

22 RecAt the close of the presentation, Pearson reiterates that the Rec Center is not closing, they are merely re-purposing the space to serve a broader demographic (my word, not his) of residents.  It is not, Pearson repeats, about the money.

This is an interesting sentiment coming from Pearson, who spent the better part of 2012, my first year on the Board of Supervisors, trying to convince me that the Rec Center, which had just opened in June of 2011, needed to be run like a business and that not only was then-Rec Director Sue Barker running it inefficiently, but it was losing money hand over fist.  Pearson had the finance director produce reports backing up his assertion, which included expenses like heating, cooling, air conditioning, maintenance and internet.  As I examined these reports, I asked him to explain how the accounting for these facilities expenses was handled for the Administration Building and the Public Works Building.  Those expenses, it turns out, were dumped into a “building fund” and not counted against the budgetary operating costs of the Township’s other departments.

Apparently Pearson believed that Park and Rec was the only department in the Township that needed to show a profit and the Rec Center (a building approved and constructed during his term on the Board of Supervisors) the only building that had to cover its operating costs.  This could either be a strongly held conviction of Pearson’s, or just another facet of his long-standing personal feud with Sue Barker.  Since his grudging resentment of Sue Barker’s township employment, and not the profitability of the Rec Center, was one of the centerpieces of Pearson’s 2007, 2009, and 2017 campaigns, I will let readers draw their own conclusions.

Pearson then continues with, “Recreation will always be an expense, and we want to spend it wisely.”

Well, yes.  Every service that the Township provides is an expense, from road maintenance to fire and police protection, to sewer, to planning, zoning and codes enforcement.  Park and Rec is no exception, though it does have the most ability to offset those expenses with funds other than taxes.  And the expenditure of tax dollars should always be done wisely.

reccntPearson then opens up the floor for questions, and the first resident (whose name I cannot discern on the video) asks about which programs are going to replace the ones they are getting rid of?  When Pearson says he doesn’t know, it sounds like a laugh track from a 1980’s sitcom.  As he stammers through a typical Pearson non-explanation explanation (“It’s like….you know….ehhhm”) he eventually sputters out that it’s a timing issue based upon the expiration of the leases for the fitness equipment.  Our resident then follows up wanting to know that since the Township identified Marketing as a problem, what will they now be doing different?  As a five year member of the Rec Center, she points out that there are a bunch of people who regularly hang out in the playground area and there is not even a Community Bulletin Board announcing what programs are available.

Tieperman goes through a list of potential programming, (book clubs, trail days, mother-daughter tea parties, park clean-up days, photography, nature study etc.) and by my count, less than half of these will utilize the space at the Rec Center currently being occupied by the fitness area and even fewer will be able to generate any revenue to offset the costs of this programming.  I’m not sure why the fitness center has to be shuttered to accomplish this expanded programming, and this question is never really addressed.

The resident then says, so really the whole purpose of this is to say that the fitness area is being discontinued.

Before the next resident approaches, Barker notes that Public Works is scheduled to come in and do “some kind of work” on the facility, so obviously there is some kind of plan, but he hasn’t been told what that plan is. He also notes that some of the equipment is owned by the township, not all of it is rented and has there been any consideration given to just purchasing rather than renting equipment?

Tieperman answers that the decision has been made to get out of the fitness business and shouting begins from the audience.

In a surprise move, Pearson actually picks up his gavel and brings the meeting to order.

Resident Fred Schell then prompts some discussion on profitability, admonishing the Board to remember the Pottstown YMCA, whose mission was to provide health for the community and they shut down when it became all about money.

Resident Karen Vogel is amazed that the Township is unconcerned with the health of Township residents.  Vogel’s suggestions center on how the Township could save money or raise fees for membership.  She thinks it is a terrible mistake to get rid of the quality facility that the Township has.  If it’s not being marketed correctly, then correct it!

torchesWhen Pearson says, “It’s not about marketing,” the audience shouts him down in unison, “Yes it is!”

Claudia Chieffo wants to know if any of the Board members have seen any of the two petitions that have been going around, to which some of the Board members respond that they have seen one.  She then asks the question that has been burning in my mind: what is the breakdown of the $360,740 expense noted in the slide presentation.  She says, “I can break it down for you.  Its staff members.”  She says: Its people sitting around, talking on their phones, eating their dinner, not doing their jobs.  When she says that she has seen 5 staff members on duty when she is the only one in the building, Pearson responds that this is why they are switching gears.  And Chieffo says, “But why should we pay for your mismanagement?”

An answer to the budget question is not given at this time.

Pearson then states that the reason they are looking to shut this down is because nobody uses the facility, and the reason that the equipment is in good shape is because nobody uses it.  This is met with a chorus of boos from the audience and more shouting.

At this point, Bresnan jumps in and, doing the job Pearson doesn’t want to do, brings the meeting to order, admonishing Chieffo that she cannot resort to “grilling” the Board over the habits of individual employees.

When Chieffo asks why there has been no marketing done to date, specifically directing this question at Barker (Barker wants to know, “Why are you asking me?” since he is clearly not a party to this plan), Chieffo makes a statement (that the microphone does not fully pick up) about unrealistically expecting to turn the rec center around in three months after hiring new director, and Tieperman, then Bresnan, jump in and tells her that she can make comments, but not ask questions or expect answers.

Even though this exchange got overly heated, in fairness, the residents were just invited by John Pearson only minutes before to come up to the microphone with their questions, and the Board would try to answer them.

Chieffo then states that the new director started with the Township, went into her office, closed the door and never solicited opinions from any of the Rec Center members.  Chieffo takes her seat to applause from the audience.

reccntr2The next resident then approaches (microphone cuts out during her remarks and her name cannot be heard) and makes the case for the Silver Sneakers program.  When she states, “I know questions are not allowed….” Bresnan clarifies that what they are trying to avoid is the cross examination attacks against the Board.  She says again that none of them were asked their opinion, and that all of this was just sprung on them.  Tieperman states that they will continue the Silver Sneakers program in some form.

Next resident says “This facility is the best kept secret in the whole Township.”  Again: No marketing.  No warning. No input from current users.

Next resident Jeff (unintelligible due to mic cutout) asks, “Is this a final done deal, and is anything we say here tonight going to have any impact on the outcome?”  When he is met with a beat of silence, he implores the Board, “It’s ok!  Be honest!”

boo2Pearson says, “Yeah, I’ll be honest.  We need to go in a different direction here.  It’s not working.”  Which is met with another chorus of boos.

Pearson then says that even though there is a roomful of people here, there are 23,000 people in this township and that the small amount who have showed up to express upset about the Board’s decision just says to him that they are on the right path.

Resident Jeff says he’s not interested in any of the other programs they mentioned, he’s interested in the fitness center and he’s not going to waste any time talking because their decision is already made.

Resident Steve Taggart mentions that one of the first slides talks about ROI, but that Mr. Pearson said this is not about the money.  Pearson corrects him and says he said it wasn’t MAINLY about the money.  Taggart says that Townships are not about the ROI but about service to the residents.  Pearson says it’s not about the money but “being fiscally responsible is, okay?  We understand that Recreation is always going to be a loss; it’s always going to be an expense to the Township but we have to determine what’s best, how much money is best for the Township.”

Reccntr3Taggart notes that the facility wasn’t built to service 20% of the residents and if 20% of the residents came, they would be out of room. Pearson responds that that is why they are not going to spend marketing dollars on a facility that is lacking.

Barker jumps in and says that the feasibility study they had talked about servicing 4.4% of the residents and that they are currently servicing around 3%, which is not really bad for a facility of this size.  He states that he has been a resident of the Township for 38 years, and a member of the fitness center.  He then says that this is all moving way faster than he originally thought; his impression was that they were going to try to re-negotiate the leases on the equipment, not shut the fitness center down, and he’d like to see this come up for a vote on the next agenda.

This suggestion is met with hearty applause.

Barker clarifies for the audience, “This is the first public discussion we’ve had of this issue.” And Pearson responds, “Well, we’re not putting it up for a vote this evening.”

Calci, clearly unnerved because this is her project, says how good it is that we are having this open discussion.  If it’s so great, why is his the first time it’s being discussed in public?

Taggart then notes that all of the residents were not notified by letter, they were, in fact notified via email and he wonders how many just skipped over the email or didn’t read it.

I can tell Mr. Taggart that I personally did not receive an email, or a letter, and I would guess that only active members of the Rec Center even got notified of this change.  An easy way of doing this would perhaps have been by including it in the Township Newsletter, which seemed to have more than enough space to devote to marketing the Rec Center or communicating with residents.  But more on that later.

The next resident, Jerry, comes up (and curse these awful microphones because this guy brings up a lot of great points and I’d like to give him credit!) and once again asks the burning question:  Is the $360,740 of expense noted on the earlier slide attributed to the fitness center portion of the Rec Center, or the entire Rec Center?  How much of that expense is directly attributable to the fitness center?

That is an answer that nobody knows and the resident is told that they will get back to him on that.

The $87,000 in revenues however, is all membership fees.  Jerry’s point is that it is premature to close the only revenue generating component of the facility before they have even figured out what they are going to replace it with, or taken a survey of the residents.  What is your plan to offset the costs of running this building? He wants to know.

boo1When Pearson once again states that it’s not all about the money (a point that, no matter how often it has been repeated, has not been effectively delivered during this meeting) Jerry says, “I get that your number one metric is utilization.  I just don’t understand how closing down the fitness center is going to increase utilization.  You are almost at 3% now, it’s going to drop, because I know I’m not going to use this facility anymore.”

The next resident says it would be irresponsible to close the fitness center without doing a cost benefit analysis and I agree:  the fact that no one at the township could ascertain which portion of the $360,740 expense is attributable to the fitness center and which is attributable to the operation of the building in general suggests that, at best, this analysis is incomplete. 

But this, as previously mentioned, is typical of Pearson’s grasp of financial analysis and the costs of operating a facility.  Regardless of the programming going on at the Rec Center, there will always be a cost associated with heating, cooling, maintenance, power, internet and staffing this building.  Are all of those expenses solely attributable to the fitness center?  Or does it cost $360,740 just to run the fitness center portion of the building?  The ultimate question really is, how much of this cost disappears when the fitness center is shut down?  This seems a very basic and critical bit of financial analysis for which staff should have had an answer readily available, but did not.

Pearson’s final thought on the subject after insisting that the decision has already been made numerous times this evening, is to let everyone know that they will “take it all under advisement.  Who knows what can happen?”

What?? “Who knows what can happen?”  I will tell you who knows what can happen:  the Board of Supervisors.  It’s their decision and these residents have been told at least twice in this meeting that this decision has already been made.  Now Pearson is saying, that they will “take it under advisement” and “who knows what can happen?”

Has the decision to close the fitness center been made or not?

What we have here is a failure to communicate

So amid all of this head scratching and handwringing over marketing, and how to raise awareness of the Rec Center, coincidentally, the Township Newsletter hit my mailbox on the same day as this meeting.  higginsI note with interest that there is a quarter of page 2 devoted to Laurie Higgins’ self-promotion highlighting her participation in the Perkiomen Stream cleanup.  As I stated previously, Higgins’ hobbies are not township business and belong on her own personal pages, or more appropriately, her campaign site.

Far more disturbing, however, is page six of the Township newsletter, seen below:

 

Farm

On June 19, I sent the following email to the Board of Supervisors and the Township Manager:

email to township

I have not yet received a response to this email as of the date of this post.

Point of full disclosure:  The Township Newsletter historically included upcoming programming for the Park and Rec department, including classes, bus trips and events.  In the last year of my tenure on the Board, the Board made a decision to remove the Rec programming from the Township Newsletter and make that a separate communication piece.  That being said, the goal of the Board was to focus the Township newsletter on how township tax dollars were being spent and what business was before the Board of Supervisors.

I am not sure how supporting local farms qualifies as Township Business.  Especially since one of those farm stands, Fran and Ann’s Produce Stand, is owned by the Duhovis’s who have already benefitted from a significant infusion of Township taxpayer dollars earlier this year with the preservation of their farm (see HERE and HERE for more information).

Make no mistake, I’m all for supporting local farms and this is not a commentary on the owners of these establishments.  I just don’t think the Government should be in the business of picking and choosing winners and losers with regard to local, privately owned businesses.

Didn’t we just get through a huge discussion where one of the major points for discontinuing the fitness center was that the Township does not want to be competing with our local businesses? Yet here they are, promoting three privately-owned farm stands when there are not only several supermarkets in our township, but Produce Junction and several other smaller farms stands as well.  And while I’m sure that these three privately owned farms and their businesses can benefit from the added visibility that in-home advertising can deliver, there are numerous other businesses in the Township that could also benefit from this kind of free marketing. (What’s next, Support your local Township Dive Bar?)

Our Rec Center membership program could have benefitted from this type of marketing.  For that matter, the closing of the fitness center and an outline of the township’s Park and Rec roadmap could have been disclosed through this communication with residents, rather than the ham-handed email that was delivered to only a fraction of our residents and caused so much upset.

This information occupied a full page in our thrice-annual, taxpayer-funded, Township newsletter.  That space could have been used to communicate to taxpayers about Township business or how their tax dollars are being used on township projects.  Instead, it is being used to highlight pet projects and promote friends of the Board.

Not Drawn, but Quartered

On a recommendation from the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night, the Board is asked to grant the Black Rock Fire Company a fee waiver for minor electrical and mechanical alterations to the Black Rock Station.  Assistant Manager Bortnichak has been in contact with BRVFC’s president Joe LoCasale and says the fee waiver is consistent with the Board’s resolution with moving some of the career staff down to the Black Rock Station in Oaks.

If this issue sounds familiar to regular readers, that’s because it has come up before (see HERE).  In fact, it came up a just a month ago at the 5/21/18 Board of Supervisors meeting when apparently Barker was alerted to this development via a forwarded email immediately prior to stepping into the BOS meeting.  In that email, it was apparent that BRVFC was moving forward with work to accommodate Township employees at the BRVFC’s Oaks station.  Barker questioned why work to accomodate the Township’s agenda was moving forward when it had not been discussed by the Board and had not seen any plans for the improvements.

In the intervening four weeks, you’d think that someone could have informed Barker of the status of this project, or given him a drawing indicating the scope of this Township-dictated work, but once again, it appears that the decisions of this new five member board are being confined to just three members.

CaptureApparently, Barker is still not privy to any designs or drawings on the modifications to the Oaks Fire Station, as it is unclear what work is being performed down there.  When Barker remarks, “So, they are moving ahead with quarters?  I guess I just thought that we would get a report to tell us what’s going on down there.  So they’re just moving forward, is that it?”  Bortnichak states that the Board can be updated every two weeks when Tieperman communicates with the Board (so the question remains:  why hasn’t that happened yet?) but that staff is just moving ahead with the milestones as approved by the Board, the most urgent of which appears to be getting those career staff moved from their central location at the Township Building and re-quartered down there in the Oaks corner of the Township asap.

Other Board Business

  • Authorizing design proposal for the Aschenfelter Bridge and amendment to capital budget due to significant erosion down near that bridge.  It was identified as a deficient bridge in the 2016 budget. The cost is $119,000 and change just to do the design and the all in cost will be around $300,000 to $400,000.  Vagnozzi inquires about the traffic counts on this and wants to know if that can be two cul-de-sacs rather than a through road.  The Township’s traffic engineer states that the roads are too long for cul-de-sacs per the Township’s code. Pearson can’t get over the cost for this “little bridge” and actually suggests throwing steel plates over it, while Barker suggests that the Board should at least move forward with a design for budgetary reasons.  Unsurprisingly, Pearson opts to kick the can down the road and do nothing.
  • The demolition of structures at the Taylor Farm property needs to be discussed at a future meeting.
  • Linfield Trappe Road and Township Line intersection:  Township is partnering with Limerick Township and Rousch Chamberlain has asked that McMahon and Associates design the intersection, which creates a conflict because McMahaon would also review that plan for the Township.  The Board approves this because they will get more “bang for their buck” in having McMahon do the design and the review.  Tom Grasso approaches and asks whether the builder who built Providence Corner was supposed to be part of that intersection improvement.  Bortnichak confirms that they were, but they opted instead to escrow $352,000 with the bank towards that project.  Bortnichak also mentions that the Township is currently in negotiations with the Bank, who has apparently misplaced this money.  Later, Bresnan remarks that the litigation on this matter is proceeding and he is going to add the builder as a party to the lawsuit.
  • Black Rock trail has been approved by PennDOT and the Board approves authorization to advertising the bid package.

Final Thoughts

Several times during the meeting, Pearson complains about not being able to hear residents.  Not that it matters. He’s not listening to them anyway.  But the malfunctioning microphones were a needless distraction and my apologies if I have garbled any remarks here due to poor audio.

It’s interesting to watch Pearson’s interactions with residents when he’s not the one entreating them to grab their torches and pitchforks to storm the Board meeting.  He’s dismissive, hostile and defensive.  Additionally, I’m not sure I get the logic that allows him to draw a conclusion that a room full of people indicates that there is not much interest in an issue, something he did twice this year with the cell tower issue and now with the Rec Center.

It’s also interesting that now, after what has been a six months of irresponsible spending benefitting friends and pet projects, Pearson is trying to come across as some kind of fiscally responsible Supervisor by nickel and diming on things like the fitness center and the Aschenfelter Road bridge, but thinking nothing on blowing a quarter of a million dollars on a limited use Medic Responder or almost $90,000 on preserving a private farm.

CaptureFinally, I’d note that a pattern of non-communication has been firmly established in the inaugural six months of the five member board.  It is regularly observable that decisions have not only been made outside of the public eye, but acted upon, without the full knowledge of the entire Board of Supervisors (specifically, Barker and Vagnozzi), let alone their approval.  If the Township voted to expand the Board from three to five members under the premise that more points of view on the Board of Supervisors are better, why are two of those voices routinely being shut out of the decision making process by the very man who was a leader of this initiative?  Aren’t we just back to having a three member Board of Supervisors again?

Just a rhetorical question for contemplation.  I already know the answer.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 6/4/18 Episode 9: Arrested Development

When a meeting clocks in at a grueling 2 hours and 27 minutes, the sanctimonious dime store philosophizing from the likes of John Pearson becomes that much more insufferable. Pity the poor staff members, who, in spite of being compensated for this waste of their time with your tax dollars, are forced to stick around until the end of this meeting to essentially read their written reports to the Board.

But I don’t know. Maybe it is worth it to get the life-affirming message of “You are special” from the Chairman.

Incredibly, it’s not a hugely full agenda, but as with all things since this new Board took office, everything just seems to take a bit longer to get through.  Early on, we get fair warning that Pearson is even less competent than usual this evening, when he “forgets” that the Board held an executive session on personnel matters and announces that he is “a little off” and “a little hazy” this evening because only one hearing aid is working.  What this has to do with his memory of an executive session is anyone’s guess, but perhaps Pearson is just so used to holding meetings out of the public eye, he’s smply having trouble keeping track of which ones he has to report and which ones he can continue to keep secret.

Peanut Gallery You may approach
Members of the Peanut Gallery, you may approach.

Before jumping into the regular agenda, Pearson asks if there are any questions or comments from the “Peanut Gallery,” which is a rather arrogant and disrespectful way of asking for public comment from someone wearing a Three Stooges tie.

Stick around till the end of the post (which takes a lot less time to read than watching this interminable meeting) for an interesting update on the Cellco cell tower at 248 Rittenhouse Road an application that went in front of the Zoning Hearing Board on June 7.

Spares Lane Development: Five Lot Subdivision

The Spares Lane development is in for preliminary approval and it quickly becomes apparent that, not only are there are many Spares Lane neighbors in attendance at this meeting, but Pearson has already talked to these neighbors and, further, that he clearly has an agenda regarding this development.  The first order of business is the approval of the following waivers by the Board of Supervisors.  Attorney for the applicant, Mike Clement, outlines the eight waivers, which he states are being requested to conform with the existing topography of the site:

  1. The Township requires a 26’ vertical curve and the applicant is requesting to reduce that to 15’ vertical curve due to site grade
  2. Township requires a minimum cartway of 32’ and applicant is requesting to reduce that to 24’ to conform with the surrounding area.
  3. Existing Spares Lane may be required to be widened at the Township’s discretion, and the applicant is requesting that the road not be widened due to the possible disturbance of environmentally sensitive areas in the right of way.
  4. The Township requires sidewalks along all roads except where not necessary for public safety and the applicant is requesting a waiver of the sidewalk requirement in the cul-de-sac.
  5. The Township requires concrete curbs to be installed and the applicant is requesting that the cartways remain at the width stated above.
  6. Township requires that the grade not exceed 3%; applicant is requesting steeper slopes to conform with the surrounding area.
  7. Driveway grades are required to be 4%; the applicant is requesting a partial waiver for one of the five driveways to exceed that grade.
  8. Applicant requests a waiver for the installation of ADA ramps since no sidewalks will be constructed.
SparesLane Project
Spares Lane Project

Township solicitor Joe Bresnan notes that the Planning Commission has reviewed the waivers and recommends in favor of granting them, however, some discussion was necessary regarding fees in lieu of development requirements, specifically with regard to the widening of roads.  The township’s ordinance requires that the roads be widened, but because of the unique features of Spares Lane (which will be discussed in detail) it is impossible for the developer to comply with this requirement.  Clement agrees to this, and suggests that the discussion of these fees and amounts to be settled amongst the attorneys and the township’s engineer.

Please note:  This is a pretty standard practice for waiver granting, which Clement himself has been through numerous times in Upper Providence.  Typically, the Township engineer and the Solicitor will apply a formula to determine the dollar worth of the waivers being requested which the developer will then pay to the Township.  Clement’s request that the Supervisors grant conditional approval while the fees are negotiated is wholly reasonable and usual (as we will see later during the SEI discussion).

Clement agrees that whatever fees the Township wants, the applicant will put into Township coffers.  Vagnozzi states he wants to see this money earmarked for re-investment in the Spares Lane community.

Barker then jumps in, clarifying that the curb and sidewalk waivers are not for the new road going in, but the existing Spares Lane.  He also notes that since the road is very narrow, the developer would not be able to widen it simply because there is no space in which to do so.  Calci then confirms that she understands this concept correctly.

SparesLane
Spares Lane via Google Earth

Additionally, Spares Lane has structures directly next to it in some places.  Any widening would have to be with the cooperation from the residents for the obtainment of easements and possible demolition of those structures.

Apparently oblivious to the previous 15 minutes of discussion, Pearson asks what the developer is going to do to Spares Lane, to which Clement responds, “Nothing.”

Barker then asks the Township Engineer, Bill Dingman, what could be done if Spares Lane became a Township project, since most of these issues are off-site from the proposed development.  Dingman states that the right of way varies between 20’ and 40’ and at some parts the road is a mere 13’ wide and at others, there are actual structures in the way.  There are many property surveys and deeds that would need to researched in order to widen the road.

Vagnozzi asks about the general condition of the road, and Dingman responds that it could use a mill and overlay as it was last paved 16 years ago, so it is about due, though it is certainly not amongst the Township’s troubled roads.

So maybe we pave the roads? Vagnozzi proposes, but for some reason, (it is unintelligible on the video) it is determined that is not what the neighborhood wants.

Bresnan then says that the Planning Commission recommended that the fee in lieu be used to widen the intersection of Spares at 29.

Pearson then jumps in, and wants to know “how much money we are talking about,” and then says he wants to go back to the residents and ask them how they want the money spent.

Ok, time-out here.  The residents are at this meeting.  Why not ask them now?

Second of all, Pearson has already been talking to these folks.  Two weeks ago, he asked the Township’s Traffic Engineer for a status on his request to evaluate a one way in, one way out configuration for Spares Lane.  Why doesn’t he already know what they want?

And once again, Bresnan steps in and explains this process of negotiation between township consultants and applicants, a process that has not changed, at least since the last time Pearson was on the Board.

How much we talkinbout
How much are we getting?

But Pearson is indignant.  He wants to know how much money they are shaking down the developer for getting and wants to know how is he supposed to make a decision without knowing that?

Bresnan states that the resolution was drafted with the intention that there would be some additional discussion.

Clement reminds the Board that some of the things that are required by the Township’s ordinance are virtually impossible to perform, and while the applicant acknowledges that, he has no intention of walking away from their responsibility to the neighborhood.

What comes next is classic Pearson:

“I…I…I …I get that.  I’ve been there many many times.  And I understand.  And that’s why…that’s why it creates angst in me that I have to do something here that’s going to upset those people that have been there for generations.  And….ummmm…you know, I want to, I want to do what’s, I want to do what’s best for them.  And…and…and it always bothers me sometimes that we are charged with the health, safety and welfare of…uuhhh, the residents of this township and…and…why can’t we do it for the welfare of those residents down there?  Errr, you know, it’s like, uhhh, that kinda bothers me.  Everybody shoots, everybody, you know, aahhhh, comes to us about the health and safety, the welfare of the residents are important, too.  So…ummm, I’m, you know, aaahhh…I’m…I’m inclined to ehhhh to ask aahhh the rest of the Board here that maybe we table this, we find out what kind of money we are talking about, have another conversation with the residents and tell them what we, what we’re physically dealing with, what we actually know we’re going to get and go back to them and say, ‘This is what we have to deal with, what do you want to do with it?’”

Full stop.

What is Pearson even talking about here?  How is this land development project affecting the “welfare” of these residents?  And why does he keep insisting that he needs to “find out what kind of money we are talking about?”  First of all, it’s a formula—or it’s supposed to be a formula—based on the cost of waivers requested, as has been explained by two separate consultants in this conversation alone.  Second of all, it’s money that will be given to the township, to spend how they see fit–which this Board has indicated will go back into the Spares Lane neighborhood.  There really is no pressing need to hold up approval pending the resolution of the costs of the waivers.  That money will be used for improvements that will be completed by the Township, off-site from the actual proposed development.

In my six years on the Board, I do not ever recall holding up an approval over the dollar amount for waivers; this was a figure that consultants negotiated based on the formula; in other words, the dollar figure is going to be whatever the dollar figure is going to be based upon the work the developer is requesting to have waived.

What Pearson is doing here is skirting dangerously close to talking about pay to play.

Clement just wants to get as much approved at this meeting as he possibly can, since this development has been before the Board since November of last year and they already have their tentative approval.  He is tired of going around and around on this and wants to stop wasting everyone’s time.

So they start going through the tedious process of the consultant review letters, and Pearson grasps the “Fire Marshall’s” review letter (whose expertise is apparently sufficient when Pearson can use that expertise to suit Pearson’s purpose, but not when it comes to, you know, actual Fire and Emergency services) and asks the applicant’s engineer to read it to him, because, in addition to his hearing aid being out tonight, his glasses “aren’t too good” either.

Barker agrees with not taking any action on the plan, but he would like to engage with the community to see if they could get their cooperation in expanding the road as these improvements are “off site” and the Township cannot require the developer to complete improvements on property that is not contiguous to the development itself.

So it seems that there is some consensus from the Board as to how to move forward, and Vagnozzi, recognizing that there are residents in the audience, would like to hear comments from the residents themselves.

And Pearson says, “Would you like to do that here….or somewhere else?”

Wut????

Full Stop again.

The whole point of having public meetings is to have meetings in PUBLIC.  Where else are these issues going to be hashed out?  And why is Pearson suggesting that this discussion takes place outside of the public eye?

Here or some other place
Vagnozzi thought bubble: “Are you kidding me?”

Vagnozzi pauses a full beat before answering, perhaps because he simply cannot believe he just heard this from the guy who accused the last Board of a lack of transparency.  Vagnozzi then says he thinks it should be on the record.

The residents do come up and start voicing concerns, the primary one of which is the narrowness of Spares Lane, which is an existing issue.  They are concerned about the two year construction timeframe which would possibly exacerbate the fact that two cars cannot currently pass each other on this road.

Clement then outlines the plans for construction worker parking, keeping the roads open, and assures the Board that they will handle this issue like they have on every other development that they have done in Upper Providence.

At this point, Vagnozzi summarizes what they’ve just heard, which are construction issues and existing narrow road issues.  But none of these issues is a permanent hardship that will be caused by the development and the developer has addressed those issues that will be caused during the construction period.  Vagnozzi tells the audience, quite appropriately, that this applicant has a right to develop this land.  The Board can work with the developer to mitigate any potential impacts, but they cannot stop the development.  It’s interesting that Vagnozzi feels the need to state this; as if someone has told these neighbors that this development can just be blocked simply because they don’t want it. Vagnozzi says, “There must be more [issues] than that.  Unless there is someone we haven’t heard from yet.”

So another resident comes up, and she elaborates on another existing issue of the Spares Lane and 29 intersection.  She advocates for the aforementioned one way in, one way out of Spares Lanes, which is the issue that was brought up by Pearson at the end of the last meeting. In response, Pearson asks Township Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien to explain to “this lady” why PennDOT would not allow this configuration.

It’s at this point that Pearson completely loses control of the meeting and he allows multiple members of the audience to simply shout questions at O’Brien without allowing O’Brien to answer.  Pearson, instead of gaveling for order, starts stammering about the criteria for PennDOT, then he announces,

“I’ll take one more question, and then, Gail, you have my cellphone number, if anyone has any questions or comments about this thing, they want to add to whatever’s happening, you can have them call me, personally, not a problem, and…and…ummm, ma’am, you, we’ll have one more question and then we’ll…that’s it.”

Full Stop.

All of these residents showed up at this meeting, and now they are not only being told they are not going to be able to speak, but that they have to deal directly with Pearson and only Pearson?

Torches
We are angry!

The classic Pearson move is to go into a neighborhood, rile them all up, and then tell them to gather their torches and pitchforks and show up at a Board meeting to shout their complaints at the Board while he sits back on his hands doing nothing except avoiding responsibility.

But he no longer has to recuit a whole bunch of actors to take part in another episode of Township Meeting Kabuki Theater to put pressure on the Board (like he did as a minority supervisor–unnecessarily—three years ago with the Mont Clare neighborhood’s Produce Junction issues).  He’s the Chairman of the Board, with the majority, and in “his girls,” he has what have so far been two utterly reliable “yes” votes this year.

So this is a bit of a different take on Pearson’s usual modus operandi.  It is obvious he’s been in communication with these neighbors, but he clearly doesn’t want them speaking at the meeting, nor does he want them speaking directly to the developer, staff, or other members of the Board.  By all appearances, it seems as if John Pearson wants to be the singular point of communication between all parties.

Look, no one likes new development in their neighborhood, and that is understandable.  New development in anyone’s neighborhood is a source of fear, anger and angst.  People tend to think that municipalities simply roll over for developers, because they think that the municipality can just “stop” development.  But as Vagnozzi states, the developer has a right to develop this land, as long as it is developed within the Township’s zoning and building codes.

It has been my experience that most of the developers who worked with Upper Providence (including Mr. Clement) were willing to accomodate the neighbors’ wishes, at least to a certain extent.  Sometimes the Board would act as an intermediary between residents and developer, sometimes an HOA or neighborhood group would deal directly with the developer, sometimes it would be a combination of both (we will see that in the SEI project, immediately following.)  What’s interesting here is that instead of facilitating communications between the residents and the developer, Pearson is trying to completely control the process, and botching it badly, and in so doing, he’s creating more fear, anger, and angst on all sides.

It was abundantly clear that Pearson, and only Pearson, had been privvy to the concerns of these residents prior to this meeting.  He could have brokered a meeting between the neighborhood and the developer; he could have come into this meeting with a list of realistic asks from the residents and presented that to the developer.  He could have educated the residents on the development process and what they would be likely to achieve as far as improvements to their neighbohood.  Of course, that would mean Pearson would have to have a basic understanding of the Subdivision and Land Development process; an understanding that he has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not have.

So the one last comment is, again, about blocking the road during construction.  Again, there is shouting from the audience unchallenged by Pearson, and Clement, who has been remarkably patient through this interminable 50 minutes of discussion, sighs, shakes his head, and says, “Ma’am, there will be a space to get your car past.”

Vagnozzi interrupts and tells her that not only will they not block the road, but it is the Township’s job to make sure that they are not blocking the road.

Clement then asks for a vote, which Pearson tells him he’s not going to get.  Barker says based on Clement’s history with the township, and always doing what he says he’s going to do, he feels comfortable saying that once the fees are negotiated and they determine what the residents want, the Board is willing to move forward.

So what happened here?  Instead of actually helping these residents by guiding them through this process and setting realistic expectations, Pearson met with them and never properly facilitated communication between all parties.  His suggestion to listen to the residents’ comments “somewhere else” and his admonistion at his unilaterally imposed end of the discussion to have residents call his personal cellphone confirms this.  My guess is that he hung his hat on the idea of making Spares Lane a one way road, with one way in and one way out on to route 29, a proposal he sold to the residents without fully exploring that option with the township’s traffic engineer.  When that solution was deemed impossible due to PennDOT restrictions, rather than deliver the bad news, the Yes Man fumbled through this meeting, muddying the process for everyone.

It almost seems like Pearson is more interested in scoring points off of the developer to notch something in the win column for himself, than he is in actually solving problems for the residents.  Several months ago, this blog discussed the campaign mode/governing mode of this Board.  At this point, it would appear that Pearson is still in campaign mode, even at this late date.

 

SEI North Campus: Phase 1

Phase 1 of the project consists of a 120,000 sf building, an access drive through South Campus of SEI, two on grade parking lots for 630 parking space and a trail connection of sidewalk from Cider Mill in front of Hunt Club, through SEI Campus and connect to the Montco trail.

SEIPhase1
SEI Phase 1

SEI’s traffic engineer outlined multiple major traffic improvements to accommodate the influx of additional employees, including:

  • SEI will finally upgrade the signal at BlackRock and Upper Indian Head Road and they will also do some significant widening to that intersection.
  • Right turn lane on Black Rock Road heading away from Egypt Road to facilitate right turns into SEI.
  • Left turn lane on Upper Indian Head Road.
  • Cider Mill and Upper Indian Head Road.  Left turn lane on every approach and signalized. Plus right turn lanes.  Driveways will be right in, right out.
  • SEI is also proposing to work with the DVRPA to do a regional improvements.

At 1:17:44, Ed Mullin, the attorney for SEI, mentions that the Planning Commission has recommended approval of all of the waivers.

Michelle Strannon speaks on behalf of the Hunt Club Homeowners’ Association.  Association has two specific concerns:

  1. Potential lighting pollution because the residential area elevation is looking down on the North Campus parking garage, and because there is no way to know what that light pollution is going to be until it is installed, that the Board impose a condition on the developer that they can address this issue in the future.
  2. The HOA would also like a condition placed on the applicant on traffic issues. Hunt Club residents live that traffic every day, and they recognize SEI’s completed traffic studies but would like the Township to require an additional traffic study to be completed as employees are added to the campus.

Mullin quickly agrees to those conditions on behalf of SEI.

1:33:50 more discussion of waivers of steep slopes.

At 1:37:00, Bresnan announces that the fees in lieu will be negotiated prior to final approval.  As is normally the case.  Some further detailed discussion occurs.

Pearson, however, does not ask to table this particular resolution until he knows “what kind of money we are talking about.”

He calls for a vote and approval of SEI’s preliminary land development plan is unanimous.

239 Grace Street: Five Lot Subdivision

Grace Street
239 Grace Street

Ed Mullin again for the applicant for tentative sketch approval.  This is a five lot subdivision, including one existing house which will remain.  The primary source of concern is the access to the development is too close to the intersection with the access to the Meadows condominium.  They will have to get a special exception for steep slopes from the zoning hearing board.

The developer will probably ask for a partial waiver for sidewalks on one side of the new street.

Pearson asks if Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien has seen the access driveway and if he is ok with it, which Pearson would know if he read the review letters included in his packet.  O’Brien says it’s not ideal, but it’s low volume, so not concerning.

Approved unanimously, with no discussion of waivers by the Board.

Follow your passion!

Vagnozzi notes that the manager’s report makes mention of another Board member doing “due diligence” on the structures at the Taylor Farm park.  It turns out that this was Laurie Higgins, who “personally” would like to see some restoration, including the creation of an historical society.

Vagnozzi does not like that Higgins has taken it upon herself “scratch the surface” of this.  He says that things like this must be done as a Board.  He further notes that this has already been looked at by structural engineers.

Pearson of course says he doesn’t think that Higgins has stepped out of line because she hasn’t done anything official.

Calci notes that it is Higgins’ passion and she should pursue it.

While I agree that Higgins should be able to look into this, and any other side projects she finds interesting, I would note that none of what she has pursued so far requires her official capacity as a township supervisor to do it.  If she wants to start an Historical Society and preserve buildings, any private citizen can do that (and I’m sure Pearson already has his sights set on a certain privately-owned building at Cider Mill and Arcola that would make a great water ice stand on the bike trail, if only someone would put some money into restoring it).

Follow your dreamsI would further note that none of these ‘passions” should be pursued at the expense of her actual responsibilities as a Township supervisor.  But I have yet to hear her offer a relevant or independently informed comment on any of the land development projects before the board or on any of the various safety issues the Board has contemplated this year.  I find it hard to believe she knocked on all of those doors last year simply to be a “yes” vote for John Pearson’s agenda of petty score settling and personal favors for friends, though she’s certainly caught on to that latter bit earlier in the year when she voted to give taxpayer money to her neighbors.

There were three developments up for approval at this meeting, and she offered one question in the course of over two hours of discussion, and that question had already been answered at the beginning of that project’s presentation. The only question she posed at the last land development approval two meetings ago had to do with another “passion” of hers, whether or not the developer would consider adding green roof (they would not).

Development in the Township is permanent and lasting and needs to be approved thoughtfully and according to the Township’s code.  It is irresponsible to approach these issues ill-prepared and there are courses in land development that the county offers if she need help.  I daresay it’s a better use of time than borrowing the keys to Township properties and asking her friends to second guess the decisions of the prior Board.

Other Business before the Board

  • The Board awarded a bid for a new digital LED sign at the Black Rock Campus to Upper Darby Sign Company for $96,257.
  • The Board awarded the Kline Road reconstruction project to Road Con Inc. for $398,888.  There was some hearing aid/glasses related confusion as Pearson tried to award the digital sign contract to Road Con and had to slowly and patiently be walked through the error by Calci until he got it right.
  • The Board approved a capital budget amendment in the amount of $115,000 to repair the sinkhole on Cider Mill Road.  The sinkhole problem is due mostly to failing corrugated pipe.  MJ Contractors will do the work.
  • The Board approved the Solicitor to authorize a tax assessment appeal for a commercial property on Longford Road.

In which the Zoning Hearing Board “does their thing.”

On June 7, the Zoning Hearing Board granted a use variance for a cell tower at 248 Rittenhouse Road, which is a residentially zoned area.

As you may recall (see here), the prior Board had originally sent the Township Solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board oppose this application.  This action was quickly undone at one of the new Board’s first meetings this year.  Pearson, whose long time fiancé, Gail Latch, is a member of the (supposedly independent) Zoning Hearing Board, instructed that the Township Solicitor would NOT be attending the ZHB meeting to oppose the application on behalf of the Township, an action that was quickly agreed to by “Pearson’s girls” and opposed by Vagnozzi (Barker was absent).

but youll get great reception
But you’ll get great reception.

As I noted at the time, during that meeting, the residents from the three surrounding developments had approached the Board to express dismay at the applicant’s repeated scheduling and then cancellation of the hearings, creating a hardship for the residents who wished to go on record against this application.  They begged the Township to continue to oppose this application.  At that meeting, Pearson brushed off these concerns and told the residents that he was inclined to let the Zoning Hearing Board “do its thing” without opposition from the Board.

I had several spotters at Thursday’s meeting, and all of them tell the same story:  At the conclusion of the meeting, words were exchanged between one of the residents and John Pearson, and at one point during the altercation, Pearson called the resident an “a**hole.”

Friendship, particularly with Pearson, has its privileges and clearly, none of these residents are in his inner circle.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 5/21/18 Episode 8: Dance into the Fire

I’m somewhat late putting this episode of meeting notes up because the meetings themselves were not posted on the website.  My understanding is that there was a technical difficulty with the hosting site.  The good news is that the fix created a brand new site, with videos that are also posted to YouTube, which makes them easily “embeddable.”  Do yourself a favor and watch the the discussion on the Steering Committee membership, beginning at 13:38.

But let’s skip right to it.  This is where this meeting really gets interesting, and of course, it’s all about the new Fire and Emergency Services Policy.

Ladies and Gentlemen:  A Tap Dance

As we noted in the previous episode of UPT Meeting Notes, there is an item on the agenda to amend the membership level of the previously discussed Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night from three members to four members.  Your humble Blogress engaged in a bit of unsanctioned speculation as to why the membership in this committee was being increased while offering unsolicited recommendations as to who should fulfill this new role:  The Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, Josh Overholt, or perhaps a Supervisor.

The fun begins when Pearson tries to slick his way this through without any discussion and states, “I assume everyone understands what this is about, if not…”

Clearly everyone does not understand what this is about and some discussion is about to happen.

I assume everyone knows what this is about
Barker to Vagnozzi:  “Do you want to say something, or should I?”

Vagnozzi jumps in first and he wants to know who the other member is going to be and why the Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, Josh Overholt, is not engaged in this and he is concerned that by excluding him, the Board is not showing him the respect due his position.

John Pearson’s First Tap Dance:

“Well…I…I… think that we…we look at like putting our hierarchy in charge, people like…well, if you want to know who the people are, it will definitely be [Assistant Township Manager] Bryan [Bortnichak] and [Township Manager] Tim [Tieperman] and of course [Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company President] Joe LoCasale and, and [BRVFC Chief] Jimmy eehhhhm Daywalt, ok?  So they’re, they requested to have that extra person on there.  But I get that, you know, because they want to be two on two, it’s like, Ohh! We’re outnumbered here again or whatever else. Uhhm, as far as, as far as the Fire Marshall’s concerned, I…I… eehh it is my opinion that we should keep it at the level as high as possible with, with Tim and Bryan and like you said Al, everything, no matter what is proposed at these particular meetings, will end up coming back before us, so we’ll be the ones ehhhm making the decisions, not the ones that actually represent us at these meetings but we will actually be making these decisions, we’ll be approving whatever it is they decide to come back to us with, so I have no problem with that.  Uhhh…I…I… appreciate your concern with that uhhmmm….”

Vagnozzi has a bit of mercy on Pearson at this point and says he’s generally in favor of that.  Barker, however, isn’t quite satisfied.

Barker states that he has similar concerns as Vagnozzi and corrects Pearson on Josh Overholt’s title, stating he is not just a Fire Marshall, that he’s the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services and the Township has recognized his elevated status with his credentials.

And then it gets very interesting.

Barker begins reading from an email on his computer, an email it is later revealed was forwarded by Tieperman from someone from Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company.  Pointing to his computer screen, Barker states, “It’s saying here that they are finalizing the drawing of the career staff offices tomorrow….and bringing them…There’s things going on here that I wasn’t aware of until I got a copy of this email.  They are moving on  things that we haven’t approved and have no knowledge of, we don’t know who’s paying for this, who designed it…”

John Pearson’s Tap Dance #2

“They’re not moving…you know…first of all…it hasn’t costed us…first of all…we don’t…we don’t have to approve anything that they decide to do to their facility down there.  We have to approve any monies that we expend, absolutely, uhmmm…but they’re not doing anything at this point in the game until this Steering Committee meets…these are all recommendations that uhhhh, that they’ve been making all along.  Uhhhmmm, so it’s not, it’s not stuff that’s in the works, its stuff that’s been recommended at this point in the game.  And uh, and again and I will remind everybody at this Board no matter what happens with this Steering Committee, they will be bringing it back to us, we will be making decisions on this, it will be, it will be in front of this Board, uhhhmm.  Everything that goes on down there will be in front of this Board.  Uhhhmm.  I don’t see, I…I personally don’t see a need to throw another person in there.”

We can apparently add BRVFC members all day long to this committee, but putting the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services on this committee?  That’s simply a bridge too far.  Why “throw” another person in there?  And if BRVFC is simply working on things on their own, why send an email update to the Township?

Regular readers and those familiar with the Fire and Emergency Services issues that have been front and center in this Board’s agenda this year (see here, here, here and here) are probably already asking themselves the next question that Barker poses to Pearson:

Barker, again referring to the email on his computer says, “So John, I’m just looking right here and it says, ‘to be built to facilitate the reallocation of space for the bunk rooms we need at the Oaks Station.’ Well, isn’t that part of the per diem firefighters [proposal]? Isn’t that part of our paid staff?”

John Pearson Tap Dance #3

“The whole object is to set the, set the whole thing up there, and then, when we build the facility, we move what’s happening there up to the new facility so that everybody has a chance to integrate with each other, they’re uhhhm, all, all the career guys, the Black Rock, and, and the Public Works guys, they get a chance to integrate with each other, to work with each other and everything else in a real firehouse, uhhhhh setting, and then when this is, when the new facility is done, they will be moving the the, the whole concept up to the uhhhh new facility and that’s what, that’s what, basically, this is all about.”

To which Barker responds, “It just seems like you know a lot more about this than I do.”

Indeed. It seems like Pearson is the only one who knows anything at all about what is going on with this.

on my own personal time
My own personal time.

Incredibly, Pearson acknowledges this:  “I…I…I do.  And that’s because I chose to sit in on…on a lot of these things, uhhhh, on my own personal time.”

Would that be in between Quizzo matches, perhaps?

Barker’s next comment mirrors my own as I sat and watched this:  “But we don’t know about it.  I had no idea these meetings were taking place.”

So let’s take a short break here and consider this:  John Pearson just admitted in a public meeting that he is meeting with BRVFC members on his “own personal time” (whatever THAT means when you are an elected official) and, on his “own personal time,” he, and he alone, is apparently discussing and giving direction on the implementation of the Township’s fire policy with an outside agency.

CaptureAs a reminder, the John Pearson who is objecting to adding the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services to his dinky Steering Committee is the very same John Pearson who insisted that a three member Township Board of Supervisors was not enough “representation” for the residents of Upper Providence Township.  The John Pearson who insinuated that three Board members were “too cozy” and not quite transparent enough for his liking, is the same John Pearson who now thinks nothing of having secret policy meetings with BRVFC without the knowledge of the rest of the Board.  The same guy who championed the idea that “more representation is better” and worked tirelessly with his Upper Providence Worst First/Quizzo pals to add two more members to the Board of Supervisors, is absolutely panicked at the idea of adding Josh Overholt to the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night.

In response to Barker’s assertion Pearson stammers, “Well…well…well there’s …there’s nothing been decided at this point in the game, uhhhmmm….”

To which Barker responds, “Well, they’re building a bunkhouse.”

John Pearson Tap Dance #4

“They’re proposing to build this bunkhouse.  They’re not…they’re not spending any money, they’re not doing anything that they haven’t, you know, uhhhmmm….ahhh….”

It’s at this point that resident Joe Peters raises his hand and like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver, Pearson gasps, “Yeah, Joe?”

life prresPeters says, “I just presumed it would be the fire chief since he is our senior fire services individual who runs the fire services in this Township.  If we were to investigate the police department in some respect, would you exclude Chief Toomey from being a part of the process?”

Oh.  Maybe this was not the relief Pearson was hoping for.

Pearson tries to brush this off by saying it’s a different scenario, but Peters is having none of it.  He states, quite correctly, that Josh Overholt “is the most knowledgeable person in our Township qualified to advise you on fire services for the Township.  I think that without the fire chief on this committee, it’s a real injustice as to what has to happen.”

Having survived Joe Peters’ first cross examination, Pearson sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

here comes that motion
Lookout! Oncoming Motion!

Which turns out to be an oncoming freight train.

Vagnozzi makes a motion to amend the Steering Committee to be five members, with Josh Overholt as a member of the Committee.  Barker immediately seconds.

So now there is an unplanned motion on the floor that isn’t actually written out for him by Tim Tieperman and, with as much trouble as Pearson has had just forming words and getting them out of his mouth this evening, it’s nothing short of a miracle that he is able to call for the vote. Vagnozzi and Barker vote for it, then Pearson calls for those opposed, who, in a little known codicil that may or may not be contained in Roberts Rules of Order, can apparently say either “Aye” or “No” to indicate opposition.

Surprisingly, Calci puts the brakes on the whole proceeding, asking if she can think about this for a moment.  Perhaps in surprise that one his “his girls” is showing signs of independence, Pearson chuckles in disbelief, “You want to think about that for a minute?”

Calci has correctly figured out that the membership of this committee could just keep growing, perhaps without ever actually accomplishing anything.  Joe Peters, who has brought more wisdom to the discussion than the Chairman of the Board, takes the floor again and outlines to Calci the membership he would like to see.  Peters, like just about everyone except the Chairman/ Quizzo host, doesn’t understand why Black Rock needs two members representing them on this committee.

John Pearson Tap Dance #5

“I…I…I’m looking at it in a different light.  I’m looking at like, I would prefer to put two people on that board who are decision makers, ok?  Uhhhmm for the Township. And those people would be Mr. Tieperman and Mr. Bortnichak.  We are…we are trying to stay off and it was suggested that we, that we put somebody from this Board on there but I thought that’s not a good idea, because….”

So after all of that huffing and puffing in the beginning of the discussion about how this Board will be making all the decisions, now Pearson’s excuse for not including Overholt on the Steering Committee is that he wants “decision makers” on the committee.  Pearson’s desperation to keep the Chief of Fire and Emergency Services off of this committee is becoming harder and harder for him to legitimately defend.

Peters wants to know, where is the Fire Chief?  If he is the expert, why isn’t he on?  Why doesn’t he have a say?  And if he doesn’t have a say, why does the Township need him?

When Pearson acknowledges that Overholt is the most knowledgeable person in the Township on fire and emergency service in the Township, Peters demands, “Well why isn’t he on the committee?”

Pearson’s comprehensive response is, “Because….well, it’s up to this Board to put him on this committee.”

Calci, the evening’s voice of reason, then suggests that they just go back to the original three members and says, “The more people you add, the harder it is to come to a conclusion, I think.”  Calci argues that the three members worked, they have a good dynamic going, and they are a good team.  “Don’t mess with it,” she suggests.

I agree wholeheartedly and the first five months of this newly expanded five member board are a testament to the sentiment that three members are way better than five.

Pearson notes that there is a vote on the floor and that they need to decide whether to include Overholt or not.  Vagnozzi amends his original motion to make the Board three members but replacing Tieperman with Overholt, since they all answer to Tieperman anyway.

Pearson, sensing that he is about to break an unbreakable Quizzo night promise by including Overholt on this Steering Committee, quickly stammers through a clarification that what Calci actually means is that they should just go back to the original Steering Committee membership of Tieperman, Bortnichak and LoCasale.

hot
Does it seem hot in here?

Vagnozzi says fine.  I’ll withdraw the motion and we don’t have to take any action.

After all of that sweating, Pearson seems at a loss to believe that he now doesn’t have to take any action at all.  He breathes a sigh of relief having escaped providing an explanation as to why he was so desperate to keep the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, the person most knowledgeable about these matters in our Township, off of a committee that has ostensibly been formed to merge his department with the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company.

Other Business

  • Marchetti resolution from the prior meeting was cleaned up and approved.
  • The Board implemented a new policy/procedure for approving capacity rights agreements. The only Capacity Rights Agreements coming before the Board will now exceed 25 EDUs.  All smaller capacity rights agreements will be approved administratively.
  • The Board waived a special event fee for an event benefitting the Brian Lukens family.
  • Planning and Zoning report mentioned that the PTC 106, which is the proposed apartment development behind Wegmans, will be coming in to the Planning Commission in June.
  • Barker recommended that zoning applicants should be coming before the Board so that the Board can decide whether or not to send the Township Solicitor to represent the Township on certain matters.  This process was curtailed in order to streamline things, but the Board has asked for this process to be reinstated, at least on a limited basis.
  • There was discussion, but no resolution, on the Spares Lane one way in, one way out proposal.  Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien says that this proposal has not been submitted to PennDOT yet.
  • The Phoenixville Intermodal Study is almost complete
  • There was a discussion about working on an ultimate resolution to the property in the Mingo section of the Township, that was discussed at the prior meeting. The property was supposed to be dedicated as open space, but the Township did not want the liability of the pond on the property.  The Township engineer was instructed to try to come up with a resolution.
  • The Board noted that they will adopt a summer schedule for Board meetings of one a month for July and August.
  • The Board held an Executive Session for personnel matters following adjournment.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 5/7/18 Episode 7: The Peter Principle

If someone else were Chairman of the Board in Upper Providence, I would suspect that the reason for the length of the Board of Supervisors’ meetings is to deliberately cause residents to lose interest in the proceedings.  As readers are probably aware, there is little to no independent press coverage of these local municipal Board meetings, and therefore, what goes on at these Board meetings—that is to say, the decisions that affect the everyday quality of life in your neighborhood—goes largely unremarked upon.  The lack of press coverage has been alarming trend for many reasons, which I intend to explore in a future blog post, but for now, keep that idea in the back of your head.  For meandering meetings that regularly exceed an hour, consisting of rather dry subject matter and enhanced with a generous helping of self aggrandizement from Chairman Pearson, it’s really a miracle that anyone can stay engaged.

Suffice to say, I do not think that the length of these meetings is part of a nefarious plot by John Pearson to bore his audience to death so that he can hatch some elaborate scheme outside of the public eye.  I think he’s just an incompetent Chairman, a thesis he proves anew twice a month.  This week, less than ten minutes in, he was struggling just to read the agenda, saying he was “not following this thing too well.”

Bored-AudienceThis meeting clocks in at a brutally exhausting 89 minutes, which includes Pearson’s insufferable little morality tale at the beginning of the meeting and the staff reports at the end.  It should be noted that the requirement for Staff to attend Board meetings was discontinued two years ago and their reports were included in the Supervisors’ weekly packets.  This not only saved time at the Township meetings, but it saved money as well, since Staff is compensated to attend these meetings.  Making them stick around until the end of an hour and a half long meeting so that they can read a prepared report into the record seems wasteful of both their time and ours.

Saving the Day

Craig Moyer from the Mingo development asked the Board if the Township could buy a plot of land behind the Mingo development due to “safety concerns.”  Mr. Moyer stated that the trees on this wooded property are beginning to fall down and he is concerned that the dying trees will fall on a child.  His calls to the owner to request that he cut down the trees were ignored.  Moyer asked if the Township would purchase the property.

This particular piece of land was actually supposed to have been deeded over to the Township as part of the original completed development decades ago, but it never was.  Several years ago, Staff approached the Board about pursuing ownership of this parcel as a fulfillment of the development agreement; after much discussion, the Board decided not to pursue title to this land, as it was landlocked, with no easy access for Township maintenance, and no trail or open space connectivity.

Elected officials should always want to help their residents solve problems, but not every situation has a government solution.  Sometimes there are situations that the government simply cannot and should not get involved.  In these situations, an honest elected official will tell their constituent a hard truth in a diplomatic manner.

Needless to say, that is not what happens in this situation.

After a bit of discussion over what, if anything, the Township could do about this issue, including citing the owner to maintain his property, the Township Solicitor advised that if the Township gets involved in this dispute, which is currently between two private property owners,  it could create a liability for the Township.  Blatantly ignoring the advice of the Solicitor, Pearson states he wants to put the propery owner “on notice” and bravely asserts, “I’ll take that risk!” He never considers that by doing so, he has completely disregarded the advice of the Solicitor and that it’s not him, personally, taking on this liability risk, but the taxpayers of Upper Providence.

Image result for here i come to save the day gif

In all likelihood, there will be nothing that the Township can do to settle this dispute between two private landowners, however, the mere involvement in the affair by the Township exposes the Township to liability.

Skate Away

The Upper Providence Skate Park, on the Black Rock campus, has been degrading for the past couple of years.  In the 2018 budget, the Supervisors decided to expend capital funds to refurbish the aging park.  The cost for this refurbishment is a not inconsequential $383,600.  Before the vote was called, Vagnozzi asked if there was some way the Township could determine if it was mostly residents or non-residents using the park.   Vagnozzi asked for an informal survey to be conducted over the next couple weeks to tabulate park users and their home municipalities before $383,600 was spent.  It soon became apparent that the vote on this spend was merely a formality, as the new equipment was already ordered and was slated to arrive on May 21.  The skate park build itself, it was later announced, will not occur until September.

This seems to be happening more and more often this year, where only certain Board members are aware of the details of an agenda item up for vote, or worse, that the decision has already been enacted and the vote is an after-the-fact formality.

In fairness, this spend was already approved as part of the 2018 budget; but why even put it up for a vote if the spend has already happened?

Who’s Steering this thing?

As was covered in previous posts (here, here and here), much was made of the assertion that the Fire and Emergency Services plan adopted at the April 16 meeting was a pure-d objective product of staff.  The new FEMS Steering Committee is ostensibly being created to guide the merging of the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company and the Township paid crews.

As a refresher, here are the main points of the Fire Ordinance (originally appearing in this post).

A. Phase 1 Milestones: – (0 – 6 months):

  1. Form a joint Township – Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company steering committee to address the integration of career and volunteer firefighters who shall operate as one combination fire department.
  2. Identify space at the Oaks Station and relocate daytime career staff to the Oaks station.
  3. Consider supporting a volunteer stipend program or volunteer live-in program to bolster the volunteer response.

B. Phase 2 Milestones: – (6 – 36 months) 

  1. On or before October 1, 2018 finalize the design, bid specifications and cost scope for a new emergency services facility.
  2. Transition career firefighter/EMTs to twelve-hour shifts (6:00am to 6:00pm) seven days per week beginning January 1, 2019
  3. Fund the hiring of two full-time career firefighter/EMTs and the transition of existing career firefighters to 12-hour shifts as part of the 2019 budget.
  4. On or before January 1, 2019 advertise and award bids for a new emergency services facility. April 16, 2018 BOS Meeting Page 148 of 162
  5. Relocate career firefighters to the new emergency services facility upon completion of the facility which shall act as the main hub of fire service delivery to Upper Providence Township.
  6. Develop a plan for the disposition of the Mont Clare Fire Station and support Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company in evaluating and making needed upgrades to the Oaks Fire Station.

C. Phase 3 Milestones: – (3 – 5 years)

  1. Consider forming a committee of elected and appointed officials from Upper Providence Township, Trappe, Collegeville and Royersford Boroughs to explore ways to improve cost efficiencies and to develop a regional solution for providing fire services.
  2. Seek regional grant support and professional consulting assistance from Harrisburg to help forge a realistic, regional fire services blueprint by 2025.
  3. Explore the formation of a Council of Governments to maintain a regular dialogue among area elected officials, not only on fire-related issues but all areas of municipal service.

Compare and contrast with the slides from Staff’s original recommendations regarding the Fire Ordinance.

Slide1Slide2Slide3

The most striking differences are the lack of qualification goals in the final adopted ordinance, and the relocation of the Township’s Engine 93 to the Oaks Firestation instead of bringing the volunteers up to the centralized location once the new facility is built.  For a detailed discussion of the differences between the adopted ordinance and the staff proposed ordinance, see HERE.

The Steering Committee is to consist of the Township Manager, Tim Tieperman, Assistant Township Manager, Bryan Bortnichak and a representative chosen by Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company.  During the Board’s discussion of this resolution, it was presumed that this representative would be BRVFC President Joe LoCasale, but, it was later determined that since this is to be the choice of BRVFC, the Township must wait until they put someone forward.  Vagnozzi asked if the Township can veto a representative if the Board does not agree with that representative.

Conspicuously absent from this Steering Committee is the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services.

And what’s interesting is that the Agenda for the May 21 meeting contains the following item:

Agenda Item 6This is a proposal to add one more member to the Steering Committee.  Is this to add the Township’s Chief of Fire and EMS, who, by virtue of his expertise alone, should be on this committee?  After all, it’s his department merging with the volunteers and the volunteers are getting a voice; why isn’t he? And since the ultimate responsibility for the provision of fire services to township residents resides with the Board of Supervisors, shouldn’t a BOS member be on this Steering Committee as well?

Resident Joe Peters asked perhaps the most pertinent question of the evening and I paraphrase here:  Who will be steering the steering committee?

It’s a great question.

Other Business

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Board tabled a minor subdivision for Marchetti at Caroline and Blackrock Roads.  This resolution will approve splitting the original lot into two lots.  This rather simple subdivision required some minor cleanup and it was proposed that the applicant come back in two weeks so the Board could pass a clean resolution.  When the applicant was asked if this would be acceptable, the applicant’s representative said they would prefer to get their approval now.  Since Pearson does not know how to deliver anything but a “Yes” to any potential voter, this suggestion threw the Chairman into a tailspin, and he desperately looks to staff saying, “I am at a loss as to how to proceed.”  Eventually, staff took the heat and tabled the resolution for the May 21 meeting.
  • The Board approved a development plan for Global Packaging.  During this discussion, Supervisor Higgins asked Global Packaging’s counsel, Ed Mullin, if they had looked into the feasibility of putting a green roof on their proposed building.  Mullin responded that the applicant, had, in fact explored that option, and it would add some $7.3 million to their proposed construction project so they would not be proceding with a green roof.
  • The Board approved the replacement of the Summit Ave Culvert for $100,000, which will require a capital budget amendment.  This prompted Pearson to assure the audience, “Just so that everyone knows, we do not have a slush fund here.”  I’m not sure why Pearson felt the need to make this point.
  • The Board approved a waiver of a special event permit fee of $75 for an event that had already occurred.
  • The Board announced a combination electronic recycling and shredder event to be held on October 6.
  • Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien announced work in Lower Providence for signaling of the intersection of Station and Pawlings Road and the widening of Station Ave, which will affect traffic patterns for the Expo Center.
  • Township Civil Engineer Bill Dingman discussed issues with the SEI parking deck and three items not addressed on the plans.  There were three waivers that were granted in 1995 regarding curb and sidewalk for the “temporary” parking lot that is still in use by SEI.  SEI is arguing that the waivers are still in effect.  Mr. Fresh Perspective, John Pearson, commented that he felt a little bit guilty about the rather permanent nature of the temporary lot because he was on the Board in 1995 when that Temporary lot was approved.
  • The Board approved a bid advertisement for a new digital sign for the Blackrock campus.  Anticipated spend is $65,000.
  • Township Manager Tim Tieperman announced the impending rollout of the Township’s mobile ap.
  • Police Chief Mark Toomey noted progress in dealing with motorists stopping for school buses.  Higgins inquired if the Police knew the demographics of the people who break the law. She further elaborated that when she lived in California, they did not have the law that motorists must stop for stopped school buses.  Are they familiar with our laws? Higgins wanted to know.  After Toomey had already explained in detail how difficult is it to even catch offenders, even if the bus driver gets the license plate of the offending vehicle, to his credit, Chief Toomey explained this facet of police work once again for Higgins edification.
  • peter principleDuring Supervisor Comments, Vagnozzi discussed the EMS situation in Springfield (noted HERE) and mentioned that the Board made a tough decision that they knew was going to impact the EMS company, but they did it for the good of the Township.  Pearson responded by telling the audience, “Just so you know, it’s not that we don’t have an interest in putting in an ambulance, just not right now.”  This is a bold statement from someone who, with regard to the ambulance issue, has accused the prior board of “kicking the can down the road.”
  • In the course of thanking Assistant Manager Bortnichak and the County Corrections Department in getting the roads cleaned up, Pearson also took the opportunity to toot his own horn once again reminding residents that he, too, cleaned up trash on Hollow Road.

Voter Fraud Alert!

As covered in a previous post, MCRC Leadership was more than a little miffed when some of their endorsed state committee candidates showed up on the Republican Club ticket.   Below is an email from Executive Director Jim Saring addressed to all endorsed State Committee candidates regardng the arrival of the first Republican Club mailing piece:

Saring Process

So what do they think of the endorsement proces?  Well, apparently not much out in the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth.  Here is the newsletter sent out by Chairman Liz Havey via email under the subject line “Voter Fraud Alert!” yesterday:

Fooled1fooled2

Missing from the list of endorsed candidates on this official communication is the name of Gil Cox.  Gil Cox was endorsed for State Committee by a quorum of the Montgomery County Republican Committee at an endorsement convention held on February 1, 2018.

Chuck Wilson, the last name on that list, was not endorsed at the MCRC Endorsement meeting.

But Gil Cox also sinned against the Leadership of MCRC by simply appearing on the Republican Club ballot in addition to MCRC’s endorsed ballot (and presumably refused to pay the $1,000 sin tax levied by Chairman Bill Donnely).

So here are my questions to the few remaining committee members who voted at the February 1 endorsement meeting:

  • Were you asked by any official of MCRC whether you wanted to rescind your endorsement of Gil Cox?
  • Are you ok with Gil Cox’s name being removed from a list of endorsed candidates on an official communication from the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth (“RCLMN”)?
  • If you are ok with that, are you ok with his name being arbitrarily replaced with that of Chuck Wilson?

I can only assume the Committee people reading this cast their endorsement votes in good faith.

So I am wondering:

How does it feel to not only have YOUR endorsement vote summarily cancelled by a few elite individuals running your party…

…but to also have that endorsement vote simply transferred to an individual you did NOT support? 

It really IS nice to know what some people—especially MCRC Leadership—think about the endorsement process.

Vote wisely tomorow.  Here’s how:

RCMC Ballot

Swamp Thing

So fellow Montgomery County Republicans:  Are you tired of all of this winning?

If you were a Republican candidate in the municipal elections last fall, are you forever grateful for MCRC’s efforts on your behalf?

Or are you, like me, like so many I have talked to, utterly surprised at the level of energy and passion of which this Party is capable only when their comfy power structure is legitimately threatened?

doing somethimg
I feel like there is something I’m supposed to be doing….

Are you, like me, wondering where this energy and passion was last fall?

Are you wondering where this energy and passion was when the Democrat-controlled County Voter Services lost thousands of absentee ballots during the 2016 Presidential Election?

Where was this energy when Montgomery County Voter Services was denying our candidates entry on to the Ballot last February for typos?

Where was this energy when I was begging them to help me resolve the many campaign finance issues I documented HERE?

How many Montgomery County Commissioners’ meetings did someone from MCRC attend to fight the politicized Voter Services office on your behalf?

How many press releases did they send out on behalf of Republican candidates?

Why did MCRC only run one judge for Court of Common Pleas when there were two positions up for grabs?

Where was all this money for mailers and robocalls when our municipal candidates were getting pummeled by the Democrats’ mailers and GOTV operations last fall?

When the County Commissioners raised taxes for two years in a row, what did MCRC have to say about that?

What case have they made to the voters for Republican governance in recent memory?  What have they done to counter the energized far left?

The last time we saw this level of energy was when the Party leadership mobilized against another Republican, Joe Gale, and as a consequence, we let Josh Shapiro waltz right into re-election and every County candidate MCRC supported lost. Josh Shapiro waited a whole seven days after his second swearing-in to announce his run for Attorney General, and a year later, our former Chairman is working for him in a specially created hack job.

So. Much. Winning.

Over half of the local Committee seats are empty, mostly due to resignations.  But where there is some poor sap willing to volunteer, MCRC won’t make the appointment if he’s not the right sort of sap.  And where there are vacancies in Area Leadership, MCRC refuses to appoint Vice Chairs if they are not loyal to MCRC Leadership.

reasonable
Trust the endorsement process

For the lay people out there, a little primer on the inside baseball:  At next Tuesday’s primary election, you will see races for local and state Republican Committee people on the ballot.  Your local committee people are the folks you see working the polls on Election Day and handing out material for candidates.  The State Committee people are typically a subset of this group, and they meet in Harrisburg to offer support for statewide candidates.  Usually, these people are handpicked by the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Committee and reliably loyal to him.  This allows the Chairman to make deals for statewide office; he can make promises on delivering or withholding support on behalf of Montgomery County.

Typically, endorsed State Committee Candidates are endorsed because they cement the existing power structure.  They were hand selected by the Chairman because the Chairman feels comfortable telling statewide candidates he can deliver their votes.  Theoretically, anyone can run for State Committee, but the MCRC Chairman frowns on that, for all the reasons previously mentioned.  For an idea on how much he frowns on that, please refer to the correspondence below:

Letter from Chairman 042318

Ah yes.  The beatings will continue until morale improves.

sadswampthing
I’ve finally done it.  I’ve killed the Party.

Supporting endorsed candidates is apparently only important enough for the Chairman to rouse himself when the Chairman himself has personally endorsed them.  When Upper Providence Republican Committee members were supporting my primary opponent, I was told that there was nothing in the by-laws preventing them from doing that.  But when Joe Gale ran unendorsed for County Commissioner in 2015, supporting him was treated as treason by then-Chairman Mike Vereb.  In fact, even supporting Joe Gale in the general election—after the voters decided—was treated as treason.  And this regime has done nothing but continue to foster further division.

Selective enforcement of the by-laws in any organization is a morale killer.

It often occurs to me that Party leadership has forgotten that MCRC exists to support its candidates; the candidates are not supposed to be endorsed based on the amount of support they can give the Party. And lest you think Party Leadership is limited to Bill Donnelly, think again.  There is a whole squad of folks up there running this failing circus and they are already lining up their sock puppets for a run at the officers’ spots which go up for election in a few weeks.

Don’t think for one minute that this whole temper tantrum is about anything other than a threat to the current MCRC power structure. The highlighted section in the email below is from Ralph Grasso, municipal leader of Lower Merion Township, and rumored candidate for the Vice Chairman of MCRC in a few weeks:

Grasso Letter

Point of full disclosure:  Mr. Grasso signed my petition for State Committee.  And yes, this is about the future leadership of MCRC, a battle in which he is every bit as engaged as the Republican Club, despite his claims of the moral high ground.  Otherwise he’d have no reason to write this letter.

Here’s another interesting email from the Executive Director, Jim Saring, actually threatening an injunction against the Republican Club for supporting an MCRC endorsed candidate on their ballot!

Saring Injunction

Are they really talking about filing legal action against the Republican Club for supporting their endorsed candidates?  You may be thinking that this is insanity.  Why wouldn’t candidates want all the support they can get to win an election?

Because this has very little to do with the Candidates themselves and everything to do with who controls the keys to MCRC.

mustcrush
Must. Crush. Tom. Ellis.

There are vocal and hardworking folks on the Republican Committee, good soldiers,  who will tell you the problem in the Party is not leadership.  The problem, they say, is “divisive” folks like me, and Tom Ellis, and several others working with the Republican Club. The good soldiers tell us that “for the good of the Party,” we should look the other way when we see problems in the Party, suck it up when the Party attacks us personally, and for God’s sake, shut up.

Folks involved with the Republican Club of Montgomery County don’t blindly march in lockstep with the Party Leadership. We dare to speak up when we see something is wrong, and we want it to change for the better.  The Republican Club believes that it is our current leadership who is divisive and vindictive.

This is a post I didn’t want to write, let alone post.  Who needs to stick their neck out only to be subject to these type of unhinged and often shadowy attacks on one’s characters simply for speaking up for one’s beliefs?  Personally, as the subject of more than my fair share of this type of treatment, I’m more than a little tired of it, and that’s why this post was never going to be published.  But the events of the last few days have left me distraught and disgusted, and so ashamed of so many of my fellow party members, I simply cannot remain silent.

Because silence is consent.  There is something deeply wrong with an organization that relies on fear of reprisal to extract loyalty from it’s members.

The filthy ad-hominem attack on Tom Ellis, by pathetically using a reheated and thoroughly discredited 14-year-old smear campaign from Joe Hoeffel, is really beyond the pale.  The meat of this latest attack, as usual, was distributed anonymously, just like certain recent and notable “news” stories, mysterious videos and whisper campaigns that have attacked the character of other dedicated Republicans who dared challenge this leadership.  It’s no wonder that people are fleeing this party.

gentleswamp
Fly away, little Democrat.  I won’t harm you.

When was the last time you saw MCRC go after a Democrat like that?  Have they targeted Sean Kilkenney, who is collecting municipal solicitorships like charms on a Pandora Bracelet while happily dancing on the edge of the Pawlowski scandal in Allentown?  Or how about Val Arkoosh, who was the architect of the mess at Voter Services?  Or Josh Shapiro, who has wiped his feet all over the red carpet MCRC laid all the way to Harrisburg for him?

No.  Our party saves its best energy only to unleash it against one of our own.

Ask yourself this:  Is the appropriate response for mailers accurately suggesting that the endorsed state committee candidates are beholden to the Party bosses, a wholesale character smear against a dedicated Republican, or is that maybe a little over the top?

If you are a Republican and you are happy with the performance that the Montgomery County Republican Party has turned in for the last few years, if you think silencing dissent with the threat of character assassination is a great way to foster an esprit de corps, then by all means, voting for the endorsed candidates is one way to help ensure that MCRC will continue to deliver the same super awesome results into the foreseeable future.

But, if you want to signal to the rank and file that it is time for a change in their inept leadership (and it is), then you can do that by voting for unendorsed candidates.  They are listed below.

Let’s start winning elections again.

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