UPT Board Meeting Notes 3/5/18 Episode 2: Campaign Trail Promise Fulfillment Season

I’ve got no post for 2/20/18 meeting, but I would like to note that Supervisor Phil Barker’s rejoinder to the Democrats’ “kicking the can down the road” talking point on fire and EMS made at the 2/5 meeting is definitely worth a watch.  He even brings props.  It begins at 1:47 in the 2/20/18 meeting linked HERE.

Before we get into it, I just have to say it:  Can we please, for the love of God, stop with the little morality tales at the beginning of the meetings?  I don’t think anyone is buying the home-spun wisdom of the genteel dive bar owner act, and certainly we don’t need to be moralized at by the likes of John Pearson.  The meetings are already going almost two hours and this after Supervisor Al Vagnozzi notes at the beginning of the meeting that he wants to move things along.  Pity poor staff members who are being forced to give reports scheduled at the end of these meetings, especially when those reports can just as easily be read by the Board in their packets.

As mentioned previously, embedding of the meeting videos is not possible. The link to the 3/5/18 meeting is HERE.

It’s like….you know….ehm….

9d81373db0246bee30f07a649ce01f80Even though I complained about this just a couple of paragraphs earlier, it’s not like we didn’t know that the expansion of the Board of Supervisors would result in longer meetings.  I just never anticipated that the primary reason for these longer meetings would be for the re-education of three-term Supervisor and Board Chairman, John Pearson, regarding his basic duties. With questions that are primarily process related and not project specific, Pearson seems to have forgotten everything he ever knew about construction and land development and he is determined to get his re-education on the Public’s time.

First case in point:  Pearson asks Township Engineer Bill Dingman how a “change order” works in reference to the Municipal Administration Building project. This might be a legitimate question (albeit one asked on his own time) if he hadn’t been on the Board of Supervisors during the construction of the Recreation Center and the Police Administration Building.  He asks “What are we looking at to keep [the cost of change orders] under?” as if he has a maximum budget that he can fill with wish list items he wants to add to the very project he campaigned against.  The obvious answer is: change as little as possible.  The target is always $0.

Second case in point:  The Township’s development approval process includes three steps:  Tentative Sketch, Preliminary Approval and Final Approval.  In spite of numerous meetings in which he has voted to approve development in the Township over the course of his three separate terms, Pearson still has trouble understanding the process, specifically, the definition of “substantially complete.” images (3)Both Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan and Supervisor Phil Barker take time out of the meeting to give Pearson a tutorial on this point, explaining that since Pearson is Chairman, he is the final word on whether or not something can be deemed “substantially complete” and it’s up to him to determine that status before he signs the plans as Chairman. As this lesson sinks in, the responsibility-averse Pearson appears visibly shaken, especially over that part about the last step in the approval being “all on him.”

Grandstanding on Trash Pickup

Pearson takes a moment to thank resident Fred Schell for picking up roadside trash on Hollow Road, which is an admirable thing to do (both in picking up the trash and recognizing it).  However, this moment seems to function solely as a segue way into Pearson’s own Community Roadside Trash Pickup-a-Palooza.  Having expounded on this point at the February 20 meeting and after asking for, and receiving, staff input for how they could “clean up the roads,” instead of doing his homework, Pearson set about organizing a group and cleaning up the roadside trash on half of Hollow Road.

Not bad for a guy who opted to “hold down the fort” instead of knock doors during the election campaign last year, eh?

Pearson’s tone during this discussion seemed to be almost accusatory of Township staff, as if this was an issue they had been neglecting fo years instead of an annual problem that is addressed every year with the break of the weather. It’s perfectly normal to see an inordinate amount of roadside trash after a long winter with many windy storms.  That’s why a “spring cleanup” is a regular event.

picks-up-trash-saves-the-worldThe motivation in starting this kind of granola-crunching, community organizing, new age co-op kind of venture is pretty transparent, and it seemed for a while Pearson was going to organize groups all around the township to take on different areas.  That was until he was bombarded by wholly reasonable solutions offered by his fellow Supervisors and Township Staff.

  • Assistant Township Manager Bryan Bortnichak had already contacted County Corrections to get some DUI offenders out to collect trash.
  • Supervisor Phil Barker noted that the Boy Scouts were looking for Community Service Projects
  • Supervisor Al Vagnozzi offered that his HOA at Providence Chase pays their landscaper to collect roadside trash in the perimeter of the development.
  • And Public Works. Who kind of does this sort of thing anyway.

But by far the best moment of the whole discussion came when Pearson suggested some “No Littering” signs, specifically for Hollow Road, almost immediately after Fred Schell complained about tractor trailers regularly ignoring the “Low Clearance” and “No Trucks” signs approaching his house.

Campaign Promise Fulfillment #1 – NIMBYism on the Board

This is the fourth time the preservation of the Duhovis farm has come before the Board of Supervisors and the third time John Pearson has considered it.  The issue was put on the agenda for discussion only and no vote was taken.  But nothing has changed in the reasoning as to why this proposal had been rejected three previous times.

nimbyThe only thing that has changed is the make-up of the Board.  The discussion, beginning at around 32:30, was prefaced by Pearson announcing that this was up in “Laurie’s neck of the woods,” and as it turns out, this is a property that is adjacent to Supervisor Laurie Higgins’ own property.

A little background:  The farm preservation program is a State program, wherein the State, the County and the Township contribute money to “buy” the development rights from a farm landowner.  In the words of the County representative, the program is to “retain an agricultural land base for the future that is sustainable.”  The rights to the property remain with the landowner.

Parkhouse2Isn’t it unfortunate that the County themselves could not apply to this program before they decided to sell the 220 acres of active farmland associated with Parkhouse? And isn’t it especially rich to have a County representative being invited to an Upper Providence Township meeting to lecture the Board on open space preservation?  Oh, yes, she’s from New Jersey and she’s only been here a year and a half.  She can’t even name the municipalities where farmland has been preserved, but she’s pretty sure it’s a diverse mixture of locations.

But I digress.

The Township gains no land, no public access, and no trails from this transaction.  They get a promise from the landowner not to develop the property and a cancelled check.

Years ago, during one of the previous times that the Duhovis farm issue was before the Board, I spoke to one of the Township farmers who sold his land to a developer .  A dairy farmer, this resident told me then that farming on a small scale, such as is possible in a suburban community like Upper Providence, is NOT sustainable.  Larger farms and the burden of government regulations are putting small farmers out of business.

The money going toward farm preservation is a Band-Aid, a one-time cash infusion to the landowner that supplements the income the farm is providing.  The problem lies in the “one-time” cash infusion, since the cash eventually runs out.  If it lasts 10 years or 50 years, it doesn’t matter:  What becomes of the landowners who have committed to a deed restriction on a farm property when that farm income alone can no longer sustain its owners?  I have serious doubts about the feasibility of maintaining the perpetuity of the deed restriction, especially when confronted with the inevitable future hardship of the owners.

Additionally, I would add that in spite of all of the Democrats’ discussion on putting in trails to nowhere on this property, the Duhovises were pretty clear in October that they were not at all willing to allow public access on their land.  If I recall, both John Pearson and Laurie Higgins were in attendance in that meeting.

We really start getting down to the purpose of this agenda item at around 43:00 when Supervisor Laurie Higgins starts talking about the other large parcels up in that area of the Township (her neighbors) and asks the County Rep whether any of them are “getting in” on this action.  When the County Rep says no, Barker reiterates the reasoning for denial, citing that the property abuts either Limerick or Perkiomen Townships.

At 46:11 Higgins appoints herself to the Perkiomen Township Board of Supervisors and proclaims that “Perkiomen Township hasn’t had any development in 10 years and they don’t anticipate any more,” she says before adding, “But that’s for Perkiomen.”

images (1)By 48:35, Higgins has gone full NIMBY and proclaims, “We don’t want it to change.  We don’t want to see the Sterley property or the tree farm developed.”  None of her neighboring landowners is asking for public money, either.  But at least we know why this issue, which was voted down in October of last year for the third time, appeared on the agenda again.

Look, we all have romantic ideas about farming.  But the fact remains, if it was truly “sustainable,” as the County Rep claimed, there would be no need for the cash infusion necessary to “preserve” the farm.  Just keep farming and don’t sell your land to a developer.

Campaign Promise Fulfillment #2 – Re-establishment of Rumor Central

At 57:40, an approximate 15 minute discussion on change orders for the construction of the Administration Building occurs. There is much handwringing over how much the change orders are costing, and even more over the proposal for a ~ $75,000 change order for a ballfield (a field that IS owned by the Township and IS part of the Township’s existing trail plan) but they finally move forward.

Almost as an afterthought, at 1:12:40, Assistant Manager Bortnichak throws out a proposal for a change order to build a first floor, private office – with security – for Julie Mullin, the Upper Providence Tax Collector (and organizer/treasurer of the five member board PAC of Upper Providence First).

This is apparently the BEST. PROPOSAL. EVER and several Supervisors fall all over themselves to approve it.

Point of full disclosure: Julie Mullin has disingenuously blamed me for the write in campaign that was launched against her on May 7.  In fact — again, falsely–she was blaming me for shadowy “attacks” against her for weeks before Al Wolfrom even announced his write in campaign.

1 OutofpocketBeginning in March of last year, Mullin posted several angst-ridden, long-suffering and self-pitying Facebook posts, which contained a lot of whining about “being attacked” and the “out-of-pocket” expenses that she has to incur to perform her tax collecting service to the Township.  In reality, these angsty posts were nothing more than an innoculation so that she could justify her public support of my opponents in both the primary and the general.

To the whine about her “out-of-pocket” expenses, I would respond that the position of tax collector is a very lucrative, part-time position, especially in Upper Providence, and that the amount of her compensation by design includes more than adequate funding to cover the expenses necessary to perform the job.  Upper Providence’s portion of the Spring-Ford school tax for FYE 6/30/16 year was some $50.5 million dollars; the Tax collector gets a percentage of that tax money, plus an approximate $70,000 payday from the collection of Upper Providence Township taxes.  As someone who is paid 100% with taxpayer funds, none of this money is actually “out of pocket” for her; it’s just the cost of doing business for what is essentially a sole proprietor type of job.1 attacks

1 KasperSignmore attacksMullin’s definition of “being attacked” seems to be defined as, “someone wants to run against me for my easy and lucrative part-time position.”  Her posts indicate that she feels somehow entitled to the position of Tax Collector and that it is the height of outrage that anyone would want to run against her for it (“THIS IS MY LIVLIEHOOD(sic)!”)– that is, without exclusive involvement from me, of course.

She wants to be a political activist, but she doesn’t think she should be subject to the consequences of her political activism.

Until the 2018 budget, the Upper Providence Tax Collector was granted office space free of charge by the Township, even though the lion’s share of tax she collects is for the School District.  Most Municipalities do not provide office space for their tax collectors, let alone free of charge; the Tax Collector is a separate, duly elected position that is not affiliated with the township, yet Upper Providence has always provided this space as a “convenience” to our residents.  At no time was Julie Mullin “threatened” by me with losing the taxpayer funded office space to which she feels entitled.  I just wanted her to pay rent.

1 pearson endorsement
Oh, John Pearson endorsed you?  What a surprise.

Mullin is the Treasurer for the Upper Providence Worst First PAC and currently runs their faux-community facebook page.  The goal of that group was not only to expand the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors from three to five members, but to elect their handpicked candidates and get rid of me.  They had mixed results:  John Pearson got across the finish line, but Bill Kasper and Kevin Holohan did not and Jim White never made it past the endorsement process.  And of course, I also lost, which in spite of all the aforementioned losses, overall the 2017 election can be counted in the “win” column for Upper Providence Worst First.

1 primary handout
Poor Bill Kasper.  His only primary day handout had to include Julie’s information as well.

She likes to claim her support for my opponent was because I fostered a write in campaign against her, but this is untrue.  She started laying the “innoculation” groundwork in March with her “I’m being attacked!” posts so that she would be justified in her public support of Bill Kasper (and later, Pearson), which was long before Al Wolfram even announced he was running a write in campaign on May 7.  If I really wanted to run someone against her, it would have been far easier and more effective for me to get 10 signatures on a petition in February to put someone on the actual ballot.  Mullin, who is a Republican Committeewoman, placed a Bill Kasper sign in front of her house in mid-April.  When she was confronted about it by the Upper Providence Republican Committee Chairman, she didn’t even have the integrity to own up to it herself.  She instead claimed her husband had put there and there was nothing she could do about it.

For the record, I know the Wolframs from the Parkhouse days, but I know a lot of people.  Al Wolfram’s  decision to run a write in campaign was his own and my decision to support him was only in part a result of Mullin’s betrayal, not the other way around.  And I still believe he would have been the better choice for our Township for Tax Collector.

I was told Mullin expressed with sadness and regret to the UPRC Chairman that it was a “shame” that she and I didn’t get along better, because she could have been my “best ally” in the Township.  Which completely explains her need for moving her office back upstairs into the thick of things so that she can continue to nurture her relationships with Township employees.  The most effective rumors, after all, have a little kernel of truth in them.  Who knows how many taxpayers she lied to when she told them that I was responsible for the tax increase and new construction project that I voted against?  I ran into many of those residents during my canvas who claimed that this was the very story she told them when they went to pay their taxes, and those were just the ones who were willing to talk about it.

1 Envelopes
Opening envelopes.  Just another hardship your Tax Collector selflessly endures in service to you.

Funny how nobody has ever even questioned the Democrats’ complete lack of interest in running a candidate for Upper Providence Tax Collector in 2017. Or how Laurie Higgins’ frequent canvasing partner, School Board Candidate Kathleen Drennan, was the only Democrat who lost to a Republican in a wave election year.  Or how Kevin Holohan got approximately 200 more votes than Paul and I in an election where people were supposedly pulling straight “D.”  It was well known that Mullin was offering her services to her hand-picked candidates to “help with the Democrats” last year.  Draw your own conclusions.

I was taken aback as to how much discussion needed to take place to move forward on a revenue-generating ball field that benefits so many of our residents, but that no expense seemed too great in building a private office that benefits only a well-compensated elected official who is unaffiliated with the municipality.

But perhaps it’s really not that that big a mystery after all.

Campaign Promise Fulfillment #3 – Dipping a “Tow” in Deep Water

ambushAt 1:20:34, Higgins attempts to ambush Police Chief Mark Toomey as he is finishing up his department head report.  Apropos of nothing he discussed, Higgins asks Toomey, “What kind of a policy is there for dealing with different tow [truck] operators in the Township?”  Toomey gives her a detailed response, mentions that one of the Township tow operators is involved in litigation with the Township and that it would be better if she discussed matters pertaining to that operator with the Solicitor. In conclusion, Toomey asks if this answers her question and Higgins rather snarkily replies, “The beginning of it,” and hisses out a laugh.  Toomey, unwilling to let the matter rest when the answer was apparently unsatisfying to her, first asks if there is anything specific she is looking for and then elaborates on how this function works in the Township.

towmaterAt 1:23:08, Higgins reveals her hand and says that it is her understanding that there is another towing agency within the Township, the one to which the litigation refers, and is there consideration given to who is closer to the accident?

So it’s obvious, Higgins KNEW that there is litigation pending on this and yet she STILL brought it up in a public meeting in what can only be viewed as an attempt to put Chief Toomey on the spot.  Discussing pending litigation endangers the outcome of such litigation and puts the Township at risk for monetary damages.  Even John Pearson knows you can’t discuss pending litigation in a public meeting and he quickly defers to the Solicitor.

The Solicitor steps in and reminds Higgins that the primary responsibility for calling a tow truck after an accident lies primarily with the accident victims themselves; police only call for a tow if the victim defers or is unable to call for himself.

images (4)This was by far the most unprofessional showing of a Board member thus far; and this from a Board who has set a pretty high bar for unprofessionalism since taking office.  Higgins’ petty and mean-spirited attempt at embarrassing Chief Toomey is disgraceful. She should not be discussing this matter in a public forum, and she has clearly not done her homework on the issue.  I know that the Democrat members of this Board are attending meetings during the day at least once a week with the Township staff.  It is inconceivable that an issue that is obviously of such importance to Higgins would not be discussed with staff or Chief Toomey at such a meeting instead of making an attempt of playing “gotcha” at public meeting.

Bad form, madam.  Very bad form.

Final thoughts

The Board made a lot of progress on Campaign Promise Fulfillment this week, however, one of the biggest planks of their campaign was the supposed “cut” to Fire Funding, specifically to Black Rock Fire Company.  It’s been six weeks since they took office, and not a single Democrat has proposed restoring that funding, nor has any member of Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company publicly asked why not.  It appears the new Board agrees with this funding formula and does not intend to make changes.  Now that they are safely ensconsed in their terms, I think they owe the residents of Upper Providence an explanation as to why they disingenuously politicized public safety in service to their election.

Helene Calci seems to be growing into her role as Supervisor, but Pearson and Higgins still seem to relish taking adversarial positions against staff.  Though the campaign is over, they are still, very clearly, in campaign mode.  They seem to not understand that there are two sides to every story, and that not every issue is an opportunity for political point scoring. Hopefully, their transparent agenda seeking and partisanship will eventually fade in favor of doing the business of the Township.

Unfortunately, this meeting was not encouraging in that regard.

6 thoughts on “UPT Board Meeting Notes 3/5/18 Episode 2: Campaign Trail Promise Fulfillment Season

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