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.

515920-050818

 

UPDATE: Emergency!

Our story so far:  The Ambulance issue in Upper Providence has been going on for well over two years at this point.  For recaps of the discussion points see here, here and here.  The issue sparked some fireworks each time, most recently at the last Board meeting when the Board voted in favor of what was billed as “Objective Staff Recommendations” for Fire and EMS policies.

The ultimate source of contention was whether these policy recommendations are, in fact, objective and those of Staff.

As mentioned in a previous post, I filed a “Right to Know” request for the information that went into the calculation of the Ambulance vs. Medic Responder score card (below) presented at the 4/4 special meeting of Upper Providence Township.

8h AltScoring

For those unfamiliar with the RTK law, Ballotopedia has a pretty good synopsis on their website:

The Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, also known as the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law, is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

Prior to 2008, the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act was widely regarded as one of the worst in the country, partly because the pre-2008 law presumed that government records were not public, unless someone who wanted the record could establish otherwise. A law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell “flipped the presumption.” This new law went into full effect on January 1, 2009 and it states, in sharp distinction to the previous law, that all documents will be presumed to be open to the public unless the agency holding them can prove otherwise.

Since the current meeting hall was proven inadequate to serving the public during the last two meetings of the Board of Supervisors, and since whining against the construction of the larger meeting hall is one of the Upper Providence Democrats’ favorite hobby horses, this particular page may be of interest as it also outlines the “Open Meetings” provision of PA’s sunshine laws, a provision with which the Democrats may also want to acquaint themselves:

The General Assembly finds that the right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision-making of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.

As for the coordinated messaging and tactics amongst the newly elected Democrats?  I’ll let Sunshine laws speak for themselves. Close observers of the last several meetings will note that Vagnozzi and Barker approach each issue before the Board with completely different perspectives.  Barker’s critique of the medic responder unit centered on the outdated model and his personal experience with it running calls.  Vagnozzi’s critique came from experience as well, but a different kind of experience backed up by well researched facts.  The Democrats, on the other hand, have been lockstep in their reasons for rejecting the Ambulance, right down to the coordinated, unprecedented move of “Pearson’s Girls” each composing “signing statements” to read aloud at a public meeting.

For those of you that thought you were voting for a five member Board in November 2016, I’m here to tell you: this Board is still three members. And their perspective on things is anything but fresh.

The RTK

At the 4/4 meeting, Supervisor Al Vagnozzi accused the Democrats of “bullying” Township staff into presenting a policy direction that showed favoritism towards the Democrats preferred option of doing as little as possible putting in a medic responder as opposed to an ambulance.  Vagnozzi reiterated that accusation in a letter to the Times Herald and at the 4/16 meeting of the BOS.  Having spent the better part of the last two years of my term hashing out EMS and Fire issues, I found myself in agreement with Vagnozzi in his evaluation of the presentation.

I submitted the following RTK request to the Township on April 19:

I am requesting all information (records) related to the following specific data points on the “Scoring of EMS Options” slide included in the Upper Providence Fire and EMS slide presentation and the special public meeting of the Board of Supervisors held on April 4, 2018:

  1. All information (records) used to calculate the data point entitled “Impact on Regional Providers,” and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic Responder.
  2. All information (records) used to calculate the data points entitled “Response Times” and “Crew Uptime Availability” and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic responder on these data points
  3. The differences between the “Response Time” criteria and the “Crew Uptime Availability” criteria used to arrive at the scoring. 

Along with several documents, I received the following response from Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan:

I am attaching various documents that were a part of the overall decision-making process.  In the end, however, the point that was emphasized to me by Tim and Bryan was that no document exists which directly caused or led to the assignment of a particular number in the scoring columns (1, 2 or 3).  These end scores are based on subjective experience even though a lot of what was considered involved actual calculations.  For example, you will see various calculations and estimates of costs provided by Josh, price quotes for equipment, etc., but when it comes down to saying whether all of those numbers drive a cost score of a “1” or a “3”, they do not directly compel a particular number but are the basis for deciding what number to assign.  Strictly speaking, there is no document that is responsive to the request in that no document includes a formula that ends in a result of “1”, “2”, or “3”.  The attached documents, along with countless meetings and phone calls, experience working in the Township, experience working elsewhere, and even common sense, all combined to drive the ultimate assignment of a single digit number to the relevant column.

This, by the way, is not really typical of how these objective scoring matrices are settled upon.  In my experience, each member of whatever committee was evaluating a particular decision was given a scoring sheet on which they scored various options.  The scores are then objectively tallied to a final scorecard.  When I was a part of the Township, we did quite a few of these exercises, for example, when we hired the Chief of Police and the Township Manager (and it should be noted that John Pearson took part in both of these evaluations).

That all being said, color me completely unsurprised that this particular scoring matrix did not use that same methodology.

I received the following documents as part of my request:

As mentioned above, the 2017 EMS White Paper I referenced in a previous post was part of the decision making process.

really
I don’t think we’re getting the whole picture, Dixie.

My RTK request also yielded an undated slides from a prior strategic planning session (entitled “DRAFT UPFES Future Presentation”) that were notably different from the slides presented at the 4/4 meeting.  For the purposes of this post, I will refer to the DRAFT UPFES Future Presentation as the “March Slideshow” and the slideshow presented at the 4/4 meeting as the “Official Slideshow.”

Also included was an email dated 3/21/18 with the subject, “Slide Comments” from Assistant Manager Bortnichak to Township Manager Tieperman and copying only Supervisors Calci and Pearson.  This email contains a list of suggested edits to the March Slide Show.  You may recall that Calci volunteered to work with Vagnozzi on the ambulance subcommittee at the February 5 meeting, so this raises an interesting question:

Why was Pearson copied on these slide edits but Vagnozzi was not?

EMS Ordinance

Budget Discrepancies

The first thing I noticed right off was the striking differences between the comparative budget presented at the April 4 meeting, here:

8i AltBudget
Year 1 Budget Analysis from the April 4 public presentation
8j AltBudgetyrs2
Year 2+ Budget Analysis from the April 4 public presentation

And the Budget that I received as part of the RTK, here:

Original budget
Budget analysis from RTK

These numbers are remarkable in that not only is the Ambulance option less expensive—much less expensive—in subsequent years, but it’s less expensive in the initial year as well!  This is quite shocking and lends considerable weight to Vagnozzi’s assertions of doctored numbers and bullied staff.

Which Agencies are Impacted?

“Impact on other agencies” was probably the most oft-cited reason for choosing a Medic Responder over an Ambulance, especially after the “Exclusively serves UPT” line item was eviscerated as unrealistic.

skeptical
Seems sketchy

Recall that Higgins went all Hippocratic Oath in her prepared remarks with her lecture on “first doing no harm” and Calci responded to specific questions with a statement about not “wanting to upset the applecart.”  Pearson, of course, has been vocal about this from the beginning.  In fact, the impact to other regional providers was pretty much the only decision point left to the Democrats by the time the vote came around (especially since even the rudimentary first year cost advantage disappears with the information provided above.)

Trappe Ambulance is only EMS that submitted revised forecast numbers.  There was a set of forecast numbers submitted in August to the previous Board and a new set of numbers submitted to the new Board

medicrespondes
Like New. $80,000 OBO

in November 2017.  I’m not sure why this is, as no explanation was given by Trappe Ambulance.  I was not privy to these numbers until after I left office and I have tried several times to reconcile them with the orignal numbers we recieved to no avail.  I sent a follow-up email to Tieperman for clarification as to why a second set of numbers was provided, but he was unable to offer an explanation either.

Since neither Friendship nor Lower Providence submitted “revised numbers” and my RTK called for “All information (records) used to calculate the data point entitled ‘Impact on Regional Providers,’ and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic Responder,” I can only assume that the revised Trappe numbers were the only numbers that were considered in arriving at the scoring on this data point.  But this raises the following questions:

  1. What necessitated Trappe’s submission of revised numbers after they presented different numbers in August to the previous Board?
  2. Were Friendship and Lower Providence asked if they wished to submit revised numbers as well?
  3. Were Trappe’s revised numbers the only factor behind finding an alternative to the Ambulance?

Finally, it’s been stated multiple times by staff, Republicans and Democrats on the Board of Supervisors that EMS call volume will probably be able to 100% support an ambulance in Upper Providence in two years, but so what?  If Upper Providence institutes a Township ambulance in two years, this issue is still relevant.  The real question is not whether or not UPT impacts regional providers, but WHEN they are going to impact these providers.

What does Springfield EMS have to do with any of this?

Another data point discussed in the “Slide Comments” email was the impending folding of another Montgomery County Ambulance Squad.  This event hit the news the same day as the last Board meeting.  Montgomery News:

The Community Ambulance Association of Ambler will be taking over Springfield Township’s ambulance responsibilities as of April 28.

During April 11’s board of commissioners business meeting, a 6-1 board vote terminated the Springfield Ambulance Association, and a 7-0 board vote hired the Community Ambulance Association of Ambler in its stead.

The email was rather vague about what the closing of Springfield Township Ambulance had to do with the overall presentation of Fire and EMS policy in Upper Providence and in what context that information was to be presented.  It appears that Springfield Ambulance owed Springfield Township over $300,000.

A difficult business environment driven by low insurance reimbursements has made the smaller ambulance associations a dying breed, officials said.

Commissioners worked very hard to find a path forward for Springfield Ambulance including public support. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach agreement where we would have sufficient control to turn around the operation. Moving forward with Ambler will put us at far less financial risk in the future while ensuring the highest level of service,” Harbison said.

Officials said a modest amount of money will come through two more payrolls, but without a source of revenue after April 28, Springfield Ambulance will likely be unable to finance the debt owed to the township.

The township’s agreement with Ambler is for five years and will include a new ambulance [emphasis mine], as well as annual support from the township “in the high five figures depending on a few variables,” Harbison said.

Yes, you read that correctly:  Springfield Township is buying an Ambulance for Ambler.

An earlier article offers a little more insight into the problems in Springfield Township.  Montgomery News again (emphasis mine):

As the ambulance has teetered on the brink of insolvency, township board members have offered fiscal and administrative support to the ambulance directors, contingent on a change in leadership. The township’s preconditions called for the replacement of half of the ambulance’s eight board members, as well as the replacement of the ambulance’s current chief of operations.

According to officials, the ambulance’s board of directors has decided to reject the offer.

“We want to take over the board — those were our terms,” Springfield Township Board of Commissioners President Jeff Harbison said. “Change the board, change the chief. They don’t want us to replace the chief.

“We have the ability as a township to designate what they do but not how they do it. We have the ability to fire them, but we don’t have the ability to run them. All we can do is turn off the switch,” he said.

Officials said the insolvency of the ambulance can only be rectified by monetary support from the township, though the ambulance’s debt has been accruing for the better part of a decade.

[…]

“The issue is quite concerning,” Maxwell said. “We’ve been supporting them for several years through their payroll. They haven’t been timely in keeping up with their payments. There should be enough money coming in to sustain them, but because they’re unwilling to share any financial information, we’re basically blind as to where their problems are and how we can help fix them.

If I haven’t made this point in the past, let me make it now:  In Pennsylvania, the local governing body is charged with providing for the health and safety of its residents.  Most municipalities do this in a variety of ways:  through contracts with service providers or volunteer agencies and in the case of police, either a township –employed police department, or through the Pennsylvania State Police.  The point being, the provision of these services is arguably the number one duty of local elected officials and if there are problems with how these services are provided, it is incumbent upon that elected body to work through those issues for the good of their residents; not the good of the service provider.

Kudos to Springfield Township for making what I am sure was a very difficult decision in the best interests of their residents.

Fire Ordinance

Lest you think a shortage of Volunteer firefighters is a problem unique to Upper Providence Township, think again.  The issue of dwindling Fire Company Volunteers was in the news this week. TribLive:

Township officials from across the state passed a resolution Wednesday demanding that Gov. Tom Wolf call a special legislative session to address the volunteer crisis affecting local fire and emergency management services.

The resolution was unanimously adopted during the 96th annual educational conference of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) in Hershey.

PSATS President Shirl Barnhart called attention to the problems township supervisors face in keeping their residents safe and protected at a time when volunteers are dwindling and costs are soaring.

In recent decades, he said, the ranks of fire company volunteers have dropped from 300,000 strong in the 1960s and ’70s to below 50,000 today, a sobering statistic.

“If state and local governments don’t find a way to recruit and retain these very necessary volunteers, communities will be forced to pay nearly $10 billion a year for fire service, according to figures cited by the state fire commissioner,” said Barnhart, a supervisor and volunteer firefighter in Morgan Township, Greene County.

 

In fact, five fire companies are holding open houses this weekend to boost volunteer numbers.  Mercury:

Each of the five fire companies — Black Rock Volunteer Fire Co., Centre Square Fire Co., Linfield Fire Co., Limerick Fire Co. and the Royersford Fire Department — will independently hold open houses this Saturday, May 5, to promote the importance of volunteer participation.

In recent years, volunteer fire companies everywhere have been experiencing an on-going shrinkage of the manpower pool. “Volunteer fire fighters within the commonwealth are a dying breed,” said Joseph LoCasale, president of Black Rock Volunteer FC. “The primary purpose of this Saturday’s multiple open houses is to let residents of our service areas know that their fire companies are staffed by volunteers and that there is always a need for additional manpower. It is our hope that more residents will step forward and give it a try.”

He stressed that being a volunteer with a fire company doesn’t mean that you have to be a firefighter. “If fire fighting is not for you, there are other opportunities to help out, such as fire police, administration, fire prevention education, vehicle and station maintenance and public relations.”

If you are concerned about the rising costs of fire protection–and you should be–volunteering at the local fire company is a way you can not only make a difference in your community, but it can help keep your taxes down as well.

Regarding the Township’s plan to move forward, the RTK revealed some interesting findings on this subject as well, mostly in comparing the March Slide Show presentation and the Official Presentation.  Let’s discuss:

Black Rock’s Mont Clare Station

There is some in-depth discussion over the disposition of the Mont Clare fire station in the March presentation, but this entire discussion is missing from the Official Slide Show and indeed, the only mention is the rather vague:

5 FirePolicy1
Official Slide Show

The following slide, which was included in the March Slide Show, tells the story of the Mont Clare station:

MC Station
March Slide Show

In my personal experience on the Board of Supervisors, the Township was often put in the position of reacting to conflicting messages from within the BRVFC leadership structure.  A good example of this dynamic is the Mont Clare Station situation mentioned above, wherein leadership told the Township on multiple occasions in private meetings that they needed help phasing out the Station, only to have other members of leadership publicly call the Mont Clare Station “100% viable.”

Moving Engine 93

One of the biggest challenges presented in the Official Slide show for both Fire and EMS was the geography of our oddly shaped township.

Definingthechallenges
Slide from the Official Slide Show

The Coverage maps below were included in the March presentation but were missing from the Official Presentation.  I am very familiar with these maps as I am pretty sure they came directly from the Township’s 2014 Fire and EMS study completed by Fire Planning Associates and were prepared at a time when there was still a significant response out of the Mont Clare station.  Keep in mind that the “response zones” around the Mont Clare station should not be coded green (this is the meaning of the yellow notation on “needing better maps” on the slide below.)

Coverage maps
Slide from the March Slide Show

The map on the left is actually the current coverage map during weekday daytime hours, with the Township’s Engine 93 responding out of the Township’s central Black Rock campus.  The map on the right shows coverage with no unit responding from the centralized location.

Recall that one of the policies that the Township is proposing is relocating Engine 93 to the Oaks station until the new centralized building is complete, which realistically won’t be until mid 2019/early 2020, even on an aggressive timeline.  If, according to Higgins, these policy decisions are being driven entirely by response times, why would the Township propose moving our centrally located Township engine 93 to house it in the southeast corner of the Township at the Oaks fire station? This does not improve response times and it flies in the face of the geographical challenge laid out in the slide above from the Official Slide Show.  In fact, this very point was made was in the March Slide Show:

two orgs independent
Slide from March Slideshow

This policy decision has the potential to make response times worse as it removes the centralized coverage area currently covered by Engine 93, effectively undoing the coverage the Township is currently providing for the recently populated center of the township .  With the important stipulation that I wholeheartedly agree that a hybrid Township/Volunteer organization is the best model to pursue, I am unclear about the impetus for the directive to move Engine 93 to the Oaks firehouse at all, even if it is “temporary,” especially since Engine 93’s response times have thus far been proven to be superior to the Volunteers.

2c Response times
Slide from Official Slideshow

Why not wait until the centrally located Fire and EMS building is complete to implement this program, and in the meantime, simply allow the volunteers to respond with Engine 93 out of the Township campus?

Stipend

Let me first remind my readers that Upper Providence Township currently has a “stipend” program.  This program, called the “Volunteer Incentive Program” or VIP, pays an annual amount to each responding volunteer firefighter based on the number of calls and number of firefighters that responded within the Township on an annual basis.

roy
You’re gonna pay me to do what?

The Township awards an annual lump sum to each of our first responding fire companies, and it is up to each of the individual companies to determine how that money gets distributed to their members.  To my knowledge, Upper Providence is the only Township in the area that has this program.

So what is this new “stipend” program?”  Good question.  When Barker sought clarification on this question at the last meeting, he was quickly shut down by Calci with the admonition to not get “too deep in the weeds” on this policy point.  There is no mention of a stipend in the March Slideshow.  For details, please stick around after Quizzo.

Qualifications of Fire Fighters

The Requirement for Blackrock firefighters to meet township standards was included in the March Slideshow but is missing from the Official Slideshow.

FF quals
Slide from March Slide Show

This issue was also addressed in the March 23 email discussing the slide edits, where it was suggested that Firefighter qualifications be defined.  Why was this discussion omitted?  I can think of several reasons, all plausible, but none of them transparent.

  1. Has the Township decided to forgo requiring BRVFC members to meet certain Township standards?
  2. Was the slide omitted to avoid questions as to what constitutes a qualified fire fighter and how many qualified fire fighters BRVFC has?

Bortnichak’s email discusses including standards and a definition of what a “qualified fire fighter is,” but these discussion points never made it into the Official Slide Presentation.

By the way…

When the BRVFC chief told me that it no longer seemed as if BRVFC had an equal seat at the table in the fall of 2016, I was honest with him:  they did not.  The Township needed to take the lead.  This may be the source of their animosity towards me; I’m not sure and I will probably never know.

But speaking of animosity:  as an aside, I noted that the latest BRVFC Fundraiser Flyer mailed into homes this week makes reference to “recent blog posts by certain individuals mistakenly stated that Black Rock has significant cash and does not need additional UPT funding.”  Setting aside the rather unprofessional nature of this statement, if there is another blogger that is covering Upper Providence Township, please contact me, as I am happy to pool resources.

Please note:  This blog has never made any representations about BRVFC’s reserves.  If BRVFC’s reserves are mentioned at all on this blog, it is only through linking statements by BRVFC’s members themselves, either via their newsletter or through Facebook.  It has also never been stated on this blog that BRVFC does not need additional UPT funding; on the contrary, if you have received a fund drive mailer from BRVFC, I encourage you to donate.

This blog has, however, on numerous occasions, wondered aloud why the Democrats campaigned against and misrepresented the Township’s new fire funding formula, but then, once elected, did not restore the funding during the 30-day period in which they could re-open the budget.  This blog has further pondered why members of BRVFC have thus far neglected to hold the Democrats accountable for this slight. Indeed, the funding formula change is glossed over as “forecasting a reduction in 2018 income” on the BRVFC fundraising flyer.  I can only assume that it is far more politically expedient (and less awkward on Quizzo night) to blame “recent blog posts by certain individuals” than to bite the hand that puts you back on equal footing in determining Township fire policy.  I get it.

1MailersideA
100% drop in interest in this issue since taking office

“Objective Recommendation of Staff…?” 

As Vagnozzi has repeatedly and validly noted with regard to the Township’s provision of EMS services, the safety of the residents must take precedence over the interests of the organizations providing these services.  It would seem, based on the results of the RTK, that not only was the EMS portion of the April 4 public presentation altered from Staff’s original presentation, but the fire services portion was altered by the Democrats as well.

adam12
We’re investigating a complaint on improper use of the word “objective.”

Chairman John Pearson and “his girls” want to avoid responsibility for the new Fire and EMS policy by calling it an “objective recommendation of Staff.”  I think it is safe to say that the public presentation of April 4 was changed significantly enough that it cannot be legitimately be called objective or be attributed to Staff.  This plan is the Democrats’ plan for providing Fire and EMS services to the Township.  Staff’s fingerprints on that April 4 presentation are barely visible.

Parting thoughts:

Should the Township be able to determine the needs of their residents and therefore be permitted to dictate the best way to provide for the safety of its residents?

Or should elected officials defer to their bar buddies to hammer out FEMS policy over beers after Quizzo the service providers to tell the Township the level of service they are willing to provide?

Which option do you think will keep us safer?

 

State sanctioned murder

This.

This I cannot understand.

I am at a loss to understand how a child can be denied food, water and oxygen, and essentially be held prisoner in Britain under the guise of “healthcare?” CNN:

Judges on the UK Court of Appeal once again ruled against 23-month-old Alfie Evans’ family.

Wednesday’s ruling rejected new arguments intended to overturn a decision by the High Court on Tuesday that prevented the terminally ill toddler from leaving Britain for medical treatment, said Roger Kiska, a lawyer with Christian Legal Center and part of the legal team representing Alfie’s parents.

As staunch pro-life advocate, I can grasp the legal arguments in in favor of abortion, even if I vehemently disagree with them and think they are wrong.  I can even understand the legal arguments that resulted in the death of Terri Shiavo, even if I vehemently disagree with them and think they are wrong.
But this?
How does the British court justify this willful taking of life?  How does British society justify holding this child prisoner in a country that refuses to even try to treat him, while denying him the elements of basic sustenance?
Last July, Charlie Gard was killed under similar circumstances.  CNN:
At the end of January, Charlie’s parents launched a GoFundMe page to raise money to bring Charlie to the United States for that treatment. In three months, they exceeded their £1.3 million ($1.65 million) goal to cover the costs, but the hospital stepped in and opposed this effort, stating that it was not in the best interest of their patient.
In February, the hospital decided, based on Charlie’s status, that treatment was unlikely to benefit Charlie. Unable to agree, the hospital went to court to have a judge decide, hoping to be able to remove Charlie from life support.
I have no special insight on this, just utter despair.  Is there no way to just take Alfie out of the hospital and fly him to Rome, where he has been promised care?  Is there no one who will defy this inane British law and rescue this sweet boy?
What is the state’s interest in making sure that he dies?
Say a prayer for sweet Alfie and his poor tortured parents.  We are living in evil times. Our regard for the sanctity of life has dropped so low that this boy can be killed on the world stage while we all stand by, helpless to do anything.  This is so very wrong, and we all know it.
How can this be called anything but state sanctioned murder?

UPT Board Meeting Notes 4/16/18 Episode 6: EMERGENCY!

I arrived at the 4/16 Township meeting a couple minutes late on purpose: I specifically wanted to avoid John Pearson’s tedious recitation of his handpicked passage from Chicken Soup for the SoulCrowd outside Meeting 1While I thankfully missed Pearson’s pocket sermon, unfortunately, the meeting room and the reception area outside the meeting room were absolutely packed.  I couldn’t get into the meeting room, so I missed the promotion and awards ceremonies. I was finally able to find a seat in the room after those ceremonies were over and some of the people cleared out.

It should be noted that PA Municipal Code states that the Board of Supervisors cannot hold a meeting if all those wishing to attend are denied access to the meeting.  It is a sunshine law violation.  I can only assume that everyone who wanted to attend the 4/16 meeting stuck around till the hall cleared out and did eventually attend.

Crowd inside meetingAnd, just to note, this is the second time in their first four months in office that the current meeting facilities were proven inadequate to serving the public.

As usual, no embedding is permitted, so the meeting can be found HERE.

We’re going to take things a little out of order and get to the heart of the meeting, which was the passage of two resolutions regarding the future of Fire and Emergency Services in Upper Providence Township.  The rest of the meeting’s business is summarized at the end of the post.  This meeting clocks in at 1:45, so it was yet another marathon session for your humble blogress at the keyboard.

Fire Ordinance

coveryourbuttThe Agenda only contained line items approving two Ordinances, one for Fire and one for EMS, but no elaboration of what those ordinances actually contained, which were a rather lengthy outline of various milestones the Township intends to meet for the provision of Fire and EMS services.  Pearson seemed to want to gloss over these ordinances (“You’ve all seen this…”) and get them passed with no discussion, which Vagnozzi thwarted, insisting on presenting a summary on the reasons the Township was proposing to implement more full-time staff, build on a combined volunteer/career fire service and construct a centralized fire and EMS facility.

Evan Brandt, of the Pottstown Mercury, does a great job on his own blog with the recitation of these milestones.  The Fire Ordinance Milestones are as follows:

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.

Though the ordinance passed unanimously, there was some discussion over costs and the particulars of the prescribed milestones.

Most of this discussion centered around the re-location of the Township’s engine 93 and the daytime township staff from their centralized location at the BlackRock campus to the Oaks Firehouse on Greentree Road and the implementation of a stipend plan.

Heartburn
Don’t worry.  You are going to get paid, Johnny.

What’s interesting about this discussion is that there does not seem to have been any thought regarding the mechanics of how all this will work, except amongst the Democrats on the Board.  Barker questioned how the stipend program will be controlled, with specifics on how volunteers will get paid, and how many volunteers will get paid.  Calci interrupted with the admonishment not to get “too deep in the weeds” right now, while Pearson assured everyone that the volunteers who get paid the stipend will be “qualified.”

And while no specifics were offered, the Democrats’ collective reaction indicates that plan, at least in concept, was dictated by them.  Perhaps details on how the volunteers will be paid will be hashed out in the coming weeks after Quizzo at the Fitz.  Or maybe at that private meeting in the side office, that took place immediately after the Board meeting, between Pearson and the Kaspers.

So is this the right place to mention that the difference in funding for Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company is $138, 676 between the old fire funding formula and the new one passed last May that the Democrats politicized with this mailer? 1MailersideA

I think it is, especially since there has been nothing but silence from the Democrats regarding restoring that funding.  As detailed below, the difference between the ambulance option and the medic responder option—conservatively—is $87,000.  Yet surprisingly, this Board, who made such a business of the change in fire funding, has made no attempt to restore that funding. Indeed, they are proposing to spend over ONE AND A HALF TIMES MORE THAN THE DIFFERENCE on their preferred, vastly more expensive medic responder option for EMS alone.  Of course, they are also now proposing to actually pay the volunteers a stipend, so maybe the fire funding formula wasn’t the critical public safety issue we were led to believe it was last fall.

The Township has already proposed (but not approved) an approximate $207,000 increase in fire funding to take the township career staff to 12 hour shifts, seven days a week, a plan which will be implemented with the 2019 budget.

EMS Ordinance

I’ll defer to Evan Brandt’s blog once again to outline the particulars of the ordinance since Pearson didn’t want to go over it in the meeting.

A. Phase 1 Milestones: 

  1. On or before June 1, 2018 prepare and circulate a competitive request for proposal (RFP) for staffing an ALS medic responder twenty-four (24) hours per day, seven (7) days per week.
  2. On or before August 1, 2018, present for the Board of Supervisors’ consideration a written agreement with the contracted agency.
  3. On or before August 15, 2018, and in compliance with Commonwealth bidding laws, procure and upfit a vehicle to provide an ALS medic responder capability for use by the contracted agency utilizing proceeds from the DOW grant.
  4. On or before September 15, 2018 formally deploy the ALS medic responder at an interim, centralized location within the Township.
B. Phase 2 Milestones: 
  1. On or before October 1, 2018 finalize the design, bid specifications and cost scope for a new emergency services facility, which will include a dual design for a future full-service ALS ambulance.
  2. In preparing the 2019 operating and capital budget, increase the EMS portion of the public safety levy to fund the ALS medic responder.
  3. On or before January 1, 2019 advertise and award bids for a new emergency services facility.
  4. Maintain current QRS capability through January 1, 2019 and expand QRS capability after January 1, 2019 to coincide with expanded firefighter/EMT shifts.
  5. Relocate the ALS medic responder to the new emergency services facility upon its completion.
  6. Annually evaluate EMS call volume and response statistics beginning in February of 2019 for the prior year to determine when it may be appropriate to deploy an ALS ambulance.
C. Phase 3 Milestones: – Over the next 3-5 years and before deploying an ALS ambulance:
  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 emergency medical services.
  2. Seek regional grant support and professional consulting assistance from Harrisburg to help forge a realistic, regional EMS blueprint by 2025.
  3. Explore the formation of a Council of Governments to maintain a regular dialogue among area elected officials, not only on EMS-related issues but all areas of municipal service.

Predictably, there was quite a bit more discussion on this ordinance, as the Ambulance/Medic Responder decision is the most contentious issue in front of the Board—at least this week.

johnnyandroy
State of the Art

Barker led off the discussion, noting that the Medic Responder option seems to be an old process that was popular in the 1980’s.  Barker states that he made some calls to Montgomery County and that there is no one in the County that uses this old format anymore.  This model was abandoned because so many people became paramedics.

Pearson jumps in, insisting that they didn’t do away with the Medic Responder model and that there are other facilities that use it, but he doesn’t know which ones they are.  Floundering in deep water, he then throws it immediately to Josh Overholt, Director of Upper Providence Fire and EMS, to rescue him.

Overholt responds with a bit of background on the Medic Responder model, stating that they were originally provided by hospitals.  Overholt then elaborates:

There were some concerns that putting an ambulance here may actually take calls from some of the agencies and we could ultimately hurt those agencies.  So where it is an older model, it kind of fits what we’re looking to do if that’s still a concern.

Bad idea
Trying to remember where there are existing medic responder units….

Overholt, notably, does not offer the names of any municipalities within Montgomery County where this model is in use, but his answer is instructive in identifying the majority of the Board’s motivation for the Medic Responder.  Overholt further notes that the Medic Responder would address response times but it is not transport capable.  Who will actually be staffing this unit, be it EMTs or Paramedics, will be determined when the responses to the RFP are returned.

Barker then asks, if the transport capable ambulance is the only one capable of billing for services, what would be the incentive for an EMS provider to bid to staff the Medic Responder in Upper Providence, since the medic responder will not be able to bill?

The answer is that the taxpayers of Upper Providence will pay.  It will be a Township expense, to the tune of $250,000 per year.

At 108:15, Vagnozzi has “a couple of comments:”

My largest concern is cost—and just to make sure nobody tosses it back in my face that human life should not have a cost, my point is, I agree with that, but when there is a cheaper alternative that is every bit or more effective, then the proposal cost does come into play.

Vagnozzi reiterates that the Medic Responder will cost the township $250,000 per year and he sole source of revenue for that operation will be from Upper Providence Township taxpayers. Citing the PA State ALS equipment checklist, Vagnozzi notes that the estimate for the vehicle is, by his calculation, probably in excess of $100,000 and that the proposed Medic Responder unit is, equipment-wise, essentially “an ambulance without a stretcher.”  He notes the dichotomy of the Democrats’ resistance to purchasing the ambulance, but their willingness to purchase a Medical Responder unit.

These numbers don't add up
These numbers don’t add up, Dixie.

Vagnozzi also says he disagrees with the figures presented at the April 4 meeting and that the budgeted numbers are short about $100,000 in donations and subscriptions. Additionally, the quote for the operating costs of the ambulance are overestimated by about $65,000 per year.

Vagnozzi states that there seems to be agreement on the Board that in a few years the Township will be going with an ambulance, so why wait?  Why purchase a vehicle we will need to replace before it outlives its useful life?

Pearson then insists that he’s not going to jeopardize the outside services to Trappe, Royersford “or wherever else these guys go,” and “that’s the reason we’re doing it this way.  One of the reasons we’re doing it this way.”  Mr. Transparency, clearly wanting to get out of this discussion of life and death matters in the Township, says:

And Al, we’ve beat this thing up to death, some of the same people are in the audience here.  You’ve gone over this a million bazillion times, I understand your angst about all of this…uhhhh, can you kinda wrap it up a little bit?

chips
This is a pretty groovy piece of equipment, Jon.

This lays the groundwork for the heart of the disagreement.  While Vagnozzi continues to insist he agrees with everything on the resolution but the medic response unit, he acknowledges the Democrats’ concerns about a new Upper Providence ambulance service affecting the existing squads.

Vagnozzi says each squad must operate their business efficiently and that,

There is no doubt in my mind that Upper Providence is subsidizing EMS delivery to Phoenixville and some other towns around here.

If the squads aren’t making money, they need to go to the municipalities they serve and ask for money.  Vagnozzi states baldly that the Democrats are putting the health and well being of the squads over and above that of our residents.

idontthinkso
I’m not sure you understand your responsibilities here.

Pearson counters with his argument that if we jeopardize the soundness of the other squads we are jeopardizing the well-being of the community and he’s not going to tell any of the squads how to run their businesses.

Pausing here for a time out, but excuse me, Mr. Pearson:  Then why are the squads dictating to you how you do Township business?  The mandate of the Board is to provide health and safety to our residents.  If the squads’ manner of doing business is the only thing that prevents the Board from doing that in the best, most cost-efficient manner, then the squads need to adjust to the changing times, not lobby the Board to maintain the status quo.

It’s at this point at 1:17:00 in that Calci interrupts with, “I have something to say,” and Calci Prepared Notesproceeds to read from prepared notes.  Higgins reads a prepared statement immediately thereafter, but before I quote these statements in their entirety (and offer my thoughts on each) it should be noted that once again, there was no executive session to report, yet both Higgins and Calci (or Pearson’s “girls,” as he likes to call them) take the unprecedented step of preparing what are essentially “signing statements” to justify their votes.  This is just one of many moments that looks like a choreographed performance by this board.  Sunshine laws prohibit a quorum of the board meeting in a non-public session, and there are too many of these moments of complete synchronicity amongst the Democrats to ignore.

Calci’s prepared statement:

After an exhaustive 360 degree look at fire and EMS, the staff including Tim Tieperman, Bryan Bortnichak, and Josh Overholt, came up with a comprehensive presentation for the residents and supervisors of Upper Providence Township.  They spoke with subject matter experts from within out Township, such as Oaks Fire Station President Joe LoCasale and the various EMS agencies that serve the area.  They collaborated with experts outside of our township, such as Cheltenham Township and Montgomery County, even reaching up to the state level to make sure what they were representing and bringing to us was on track and made sense for our situation.  These discussions helped formulate forward thinking solutions for the increasing emergency services needs for our residents.  A matrix was created scoring the various solutions.  The dashboard scoring points us to the best recommendation for the Township, which I am voting in favor of.  As conditions change, such as an increase in call volume, enough to support an additional ambulance, we will re-evaluate the fire and EMS situation.  I want to take this moment and thank the many people who worked hard in order to provide me with the information to vote on this resolution.  We are fortunate to have such competent staff.

A few thoughts on Calci’s statement.

First, the appeal to authority, while a nice try, isn’t going to work.  Neither Cheltenham, Montgomery County nor Harrisburg knows how best to run Fire and EMS in Upper Providence Township.  That is what YOU were elected to do.

Second, the laying off of responsibility for this plan on to staff is also lame, especially in light of Vagnozzi’s viable claim that staff was bullied into this recommendation.  Backing up Vagnozzi’s assertion is the fact that the Medic Responder option is an option that was never explored, or considered, until literally 12 days prior to this meeting when it was rolled out as part of the special Fire and EMS meeting.  In January, the Democrats were crying that they needed more time to study this issue because they had only been in office for 35 days, then at the April 4 meeting, they had ZERO questions about this brand new, never-before-proposed option.  While they all continue to insist that this is “staff’s” presentation, in the face of the facts on the ground, this statement simply defies credibility.  This is the Democrats’ option.  Why won’t they own it?

Third, let’s talk about that scoring matrix.

8h AltScoring

Cost:  I am not sure why the ambulance is getting only a 2 score here, since the Township has to choose between two options; it does not get to choose “none of the above,” which presumably would be the option that would earn a 3. Therefore, the comparison between cost options is only between the two options and one is clearly much better than the other.  The medic responder, by ALL accounts, is the more expensive option; the costs never go down, and they are not offset by Ambulance company billing or subscriptions.  Why isn’t the Ambulance getting a 3, since it is actually much more cost effective?

we aren't buying it
Ready to respond with uptime availability

Response Times and Crew Uptime Availability:  Why are these two separate line items on the matrix?  I am not sure what metrics went into these two line items or for that matter, what differentiates them, so I filed a Right to Know request with the Township last week to get that information.  To my mind, they should be one line item, but hopefully the results of the RTK will clarify these line items on the matrix.

Impact on Regional Providers:  This line item is the primary reason the Democrats have cited for being against the implementation of an ambulance, but the actual data to back up this impact has been anecdotal at best.  I also filed a Right to Know request for the information that went into scoring this particular data point.

Exclusively Serves UPT:  I think we settled this one during the last meeting and, interestingly, this point wasn’t even brought up at all in the discussion on 4/16—almost as if the Democrats were told, yes, a medic responder WILL indeed leave the Township boundaries, if necessary.  As an aside, it’s awfully ironic that for all of this concern for the community at large, the Democrats don’t seem all that anxious to share this newly-established resource with our neighbors.

Higgins prepared notesQuality of Service to Residents:  Isn’t this really the only metric that should matter?  Doesn’t this one line item factor in all of the other data points?  It’s almost as if the matrix was specifically designed to give them cover.

At 1:18:51, Higgins reads her “signing statement:”

My comment is, I am voting for the ALS responder unit for all of the reasons I’ve stated in the past.  We’re not an island unto ourselves; we have to work together with our neighbors.  We have to work regionally, such as a council of governments of C.O.G.  We are highly dependent on the other agencies whether or not we get our own ambulance or have an ALS.  When our unit is busy or needs more help, we need the other agencies to back us up.  All units get called out to other calls all the time and there’s no guaranty that any specific unit will be at any specific spot at any specific time.  Because we’re dependent upon the other agencies, we don’t need to negatively impact them financially.  The Hippocratic Oath says, ‘First do no harm.’ Response times was given as the single most important issue. The ALS Medic Responder answers this problem while providing advanced life support just like an ambulance would while not offering transports which means it does not impact the other agencies in a negative way.  Finally, my guiding principle is to do what’s best for the Township as a whole, not just for one person, or one neighborhood or one business or one agency.  I look at the whole picture and try to pick the solution that helps the most people, hurts the fewest people while benefitting the community as a whole.

Oh, serving everyone and not individuals or neighbors.  Kind of like that Farm Preservation a few weeks back.

Vagnozzi’s response to this was,

I am shocked and dismayed. I didn’t need anything pre-written to read to the audience.  There is no doubt in my mind….that our staff was bullied by some members on this Board to produce a matrix that was favorable to the Medic Response Unit.

It’s at this point in the video that Calci can be heard whispering something unintelligible to Pearson, to which Pearson responds, “Not yet.”

To answer the earlier appeal to Cheltenham’s expertise, Barker asks if Cheltenham Township uses a medic responder.  When staff answers no, Barker continues:

Nowhere in Montgomery County is a medic responder unit used.  It is used in rural areas where there are not enough paramedics to man an ambulance and they use a medic responder to cover two or three different townships, maybe even a whole county.  There’s nobody that uses this model anymore.

By now, Pearson is visibly shaking his head and working up a self-righteous anger, kind of like Hulk Hogan when he was coming out of an Andre the Giant sleeper hold.  But instead of providing his own “signing statement” or some sort of rationale for his vote, Pearson instead launches into this:

The Times Herald on Friday, April 13, there was an egregious attack on this Board and our Township staff by one of our own Board members in regards to this fire and emergency services issue.  I spent my weekend contemplating just how to respond to this attack about the lies and accusations by this individual.  I chose to take the high road and not respond.  I’ll let the actions of this Board speak loud and clear to everybody up here.  It is our intention to serve the residents of this township with fidelity.  If you don’t know what that word means, look it up.  Fidelity.

While I nearly burst out laughing at John Pearson’s moralizing on the meaning of “fidelity” (a word I’m sure he looked up himself when he got the script for the promotion of Det. Sgt. Pat Haines earlier in the evening), I was also vividly reminded of Mike Vereb’s bout of righteous indignation in front of the Board several years ago, after I wrote a letter to the paper calling him out on his shenanigans. The Township was witness to similar huffing and puffing and all the attendant political theater that’s baked into the cake of a Mike Vereb visit.  It’s clear that Pearson has learned from his master well.  The only thing that was missing were the  “Hear! Hear’s!” of political sock puppets Chris Czop, Jim White and Pearson himself.

The letter in question is here:

VagnozziLTE

Now just a moment to address Pearson’s little diatribe: By reacting in such a way, he has chosen to react; this is not “taking the high road,” nor is it “not reacting.”  The fact that he spent the weekend chewing over how to respond to this letter, rather than contemplating the impact of the vote he was about to make, speaks volumes about his priorities and decision making process.

facepalmPearson’s style is to have everyone go along to get along up on the dias, after hashing things out in the backroom.  On more than one occasion, he has whined about Vagnozzi arguing points in a meeting that he insisted were settled before the meeting.  “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to do this,” is a now familiar Pearson trope.

Pearson and “his girls” are desperately trying to distance themselves as the architects of the Medic Responder reccommendation and attempting to shift the responsibility for this decision on staff.  They are trying, unsuccessfully, I think, to promote an appeal-to-authority narrative that they are doing this because staff said to do this.   Is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog?

Is this the transparency you voted for?

Anyway, unsurprisingly, the vote came down 3-2 in favor along party lines. The Democrats now own this.

Promotions and Life Saving Awards

As mentioned earlier, the room was packed because many folks came to see the Township recognize some extraordinary individuals.

First, Detective Pay Haines was promoted to Detective Sergeant in the police department.  Sgt Haines has served Upper Providence since 1998 and, I can say from first hand experience, that his promotion is well deserved.  Congratulations Detective Sergeant Haines!

Lifesaving1Josh Overholt then took the floor and recognized the life-saving efforts of bystanders and first responders in saving the lives of two people who were stricken by sudden cardiac arrest.  Maeve Quinn is fifteen years old and was stricken while playing softball at Pope John Paull II High School.  The quick work of her coaches in the use of an AED and CPR saved her life while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance.

livesaving2Joe Gold was stricken on the job and was saved by a co-worker and a 911 operator who gave him instructions on CPR while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance.

Planning and Zoning Report

Since the Board doesn’t bother attending Planning and Zoning meetings any more (though I am pretty sure Barker still goes pretty regularly) Township Planner Geoff Grace is tasked with staying until the end of the meeting to give the Board a report.

  • Marchetti at 229 Blackrock Road is looking for a minor subdivision
  • Pulte at 1701 West Main Street is looking to change zoning from NC to R3 and put in Townhouses.
  • Future of Lidl site is undetermined at this point
  • DiVini Equities are coming in with a plan for a daycare and dental office at Route 29 in front of Patient First.
  • The Board approved the publishing of a preliminary opinion by the Township planner on the use a for the Institutional overlay parcel behind the Meadows for Providence Business Park III.  The Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan, explained that this is a safeguard for developers, which has the Township issue an opinion stating that the proposed development is generally compliant with the zoning.  It forces any challenges to the development up front, as opposed to after much time and effort has been expended by the developer.  The use proposed is for a private re-hab center.
  • On the next Planning Commission agenda May 3:
    • SEI variances
    • Wawa trash enclosure
    • Temporary signage at 429 Lewis Road.

Other business

  • The Board approved an application for a $20,000 matching grant with Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management to conduct multi-phased a transportation demand Management study.
  • The Board adopted the Montgomery County Hazard Mitigation Plan which will enable the Township to receive federal funds to address properties impacted by hazards.
  • The Board approved a stormwater conveyance and construction easement for the Founder’s Reserve development project on Valley View Drive
  • The Board approved a $31,585.63 change order to mill and overlay the Pavillion parking lot at the Black Rock campus.paving
  • The Board awarded paving contracts for six roads in the Township.
  • The Board announced Drug Takeback Day between 10 am and 2pm on April 28, 2018.  Unwanted prescription drugs can be dropped off at the police administration building during that time,

Arkoosh airs Dem dirty laundry in service to the Sisterhood

Can anyone please explain to me what, exactly, the Democrats mean when they talk about empowered women?

Are they women who are strong, self-assured and capable, or are they whiners who cower in the face of a primary challenge from a man?  Are they happy that legions of women are now “woke” and assertively marching to the polls, or are they worried that their fellow pussyhats are not smart enough to vote for anything other than name recognition?

In liberal circles, there has been much clutching at pearls and calling for the swoon bottle in response to poor old Joe Hoeffel merely doing what Joe Hoeffel does, which is: run for office.  The tone from supposedly empowered females is almost universally accusatory towards Joe:  Why are you playing the spoiler in this election? Why are you putting your mean old name recognition up against our strong, independent, capable women?

You are denying our ladyparts a seat at the table!  How DARE you!

As if the only reason that Joe Hoeffel is running for office is so that it doesn’t fall into the grasping little hands of Madeleine Dean.  Joe Hoeffel could no sooner deny his nature as breathe.

Joe Hoeffel, a Democrat Party stalwart in Montgomery County since, well, as long as I can remember, is now being asked to leave the race by Montco Commissioner Val Arkoosh in a way that can only be described as the airing of dirty Democrat laundry.  WHYY:

Arkoosh said Hoeffel’s name recognition from his years in politics could attract voters, but she said she remembers what county government was like after Hoeffel finished his last term as commissioner in 2012.

“I was very disappointed to find the mess that Joe left behind at the county, and I continue to this day to clean that mess up,” Arkoosh said in the video.

She cited the depletion of the county’s financial reserves, its failure to make payments to the pension fund, a bond downgrade, and “a grand jury report that raised serious ethical questions about Joe’s behavior.”

Arkoosh’s facebook video can be viewed in it’s entirety below.

It’s interesting that Val is co-opting that tired tag line of Josh Shapiro’s, a MAN, in order to make her point about Joe Hoeffel’s maleness getting in the way of the ladies, especially since the bulk of that “mess” was “cleaned up” long before Val was appointed to the Board as a result of Leslie Richards departure to become head of PennDOT under Governor Wolf.

But I am always more than willing to revisit that chapter of Montgomery County history, and I’m grateful to Val for bringing it up.  Democrats have always escaped scrutiny during this era, thanks primarily to the high volume of The Bruce Castor Show, a non-stop media circus that kept the press focused on Castor’s personal internecine Republican Party wars as opposed to what his Board of County Commissioners was actually doing.

Hoeffel was one of three Montgomery County Commissioners during that term, along with Jim Matthews and Bruce Castor.  Even though there was much contention on that particular Board, (the press nicknamed them “the Bickersons,”) the vote was unanimous to invest $24 million of Montgomery County taxpayer money into the Norristown Studio Centre at Logan SquareAP_100129025282-768x536, a project that was being billed with much fanfare as “the Hollywood of the East.”  The “completed” project didn’t come close to living up to the hype and amounted only to a refurbished Sears/Ports of the World building and a parking garage.

In Montco circles, it is only quietly remembered that the Studio Centre project was Hoeffel’s baby, and that the former chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, (and, until just recently, the chairman of the PA State Democratic Party) Marcel Groen was the attorney for the project developer Charles Gallub.

Of the $56 million that was spent on this project, $24 million dollars of that was Montgomery County taxpayer money, all of which was lost when the developer claimed bankruptcy in October 2013.

In March 2014, Josh Shapiro, Bruce Castor and Leslie Richards voted unanimously to sell 220 acres of county-designated open space to fill the budget hole and cure the resultant downgrade of Montco’s bond rating that was created by the bankruptcy of the Studio Centre project.

The grand jury investigation into wrongdoing by County officials predictably went nowhere.  How all of that money was actually spent was never answered, and the whole sordid mess was neatly swept into the memory hole.

That is, until Val Arkoosh, to the abject horror of some Montco Dems, decided to bring it all up again.  This is the first time I can remember any Democrat calling out Joe Hoeffel by name for his part in his pet project going south.  I doubt there are many folks in Montco who even knew that there was a grand jury investigation into that administration, let alone that it raised “serious ethical questions about Joe’s behavior.”

Perhaps we should re-open this investigation.

In the meantime, I think Joe should stay in the race.