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.

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