MAGA don’t play in SEPA

It’s time for some harsh truths in what is left of Republican SEPA and this post is probably going to “trigger” some of you.

The last thing I am in the mood for right now is another election recap blowing sunshine and rainbows up my ass over the glorious gains in the U.S. Senate and the not-as-bad-as-we-feared losses in the House of Representatives. Of course, that’s exactly what we got from the Montgomery County Republican Committee this week (Yahoo Mail – Election Recap), as if repeating this mantra of “things are just GREAT!” often enough will make it so.

Image result for all is well animal house gif

Forgive me, but I’ve heard this song before, from basically the same folks, though I guess this post-election recap is marginally better than the one we got last November (Oh. That’s right. There was no election recap last year. Just an invitation to a Christmas Party.)

It was during the 2017 General Election that we first witnessed the white hot heat of anti-MAGA sentiment and pussyhat rage that decimated our municipal offices. This year, SEPA was devastated and lost 9 Republican legislators; good people, many of whom are my friends and political allies. Philly Voice:

In the House, local Republican incumbents Kate Harper, Tom Quigley, Rebecca Corbin, Warren Kampf, Eric Roe, James Santora, Alex Charlton, and Duane Milne all fell to Democratic challengers.

Incumbent Bud Cook – a Republican from Southwest Pennsylvania – holds a slim lead, but the race is too close to call.

Local Democrat Helen Tai also lost. So did Democratic incumbents Mike Hanna and Bryan Barbin – neither from the Philly area.

In the Senate, local Republican incumbents Tom McGarrigle and John Rafferty also lost. Republican Robert Tomlinson clings to a small lead in Bucks County, but his competitor, Tina Davis, has not yet conceded.

These losses were the result of voters choosing to cast a vote against the Party of Trump instead of a person, once again in hopes of “sending a message” to Washington and thinking that Donald Trump actually cares about who represents this corner of Montgomery County, PA in Harrisburg.

He doesn’t.

No matter how Tuesday’s election turned out, if we know anything at all about Trump by now, we know he’s going to spin it into a victory.

Trump wasn’t on the ballot officially on Tuesday, but for Democrats (and many suburban women, regardless of party) he was, and they voted like he was. We can comfort ourselves with tales of voting machine woes and candidates who didn’t knock doors, and yes, maybe addressing those issues would have cut into the losses, but it wouldn’t have put any of our people over the finish line.

We need to address the literal elephant in the room.

We’ve got at least two more years of Trump and another local election cycle to get through before the Presidential. How are we going to get voters to see through their fog of Trump rage, overcome it, and vote for our quality candidates?

Well, for starters, Pollyanna, it’s time to stop accentuating the positive and start being REAL about what’s happening here or we will never stop the hemorrhaging and we will never get our County back.

In Southeastern PA, in Montgomery County, Republicans are in trouble, and it didn’t just start with Trump. The blue tide has been creeping steadily westward for years as liberals leave the city for a better life in the burbs, only to vote for the same policies and party that ruined the city in the first place. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, the graphic below, from Montgomery County’s own voter services website, shows how the statewide races (Governor and Senate) broke by municipality this past Tuesday. It is sobering.

Blue Tide

A friend of mine mentioned that the US House Redistricting we bemoaned in February brings home the reality of the Republican situation that we’ve been ignoring for years. Gerrymandered districts hid the truth from the parties about the Democratic creep into Montco. Powerful state reps could redraw their own districts and make deals across the aisle with other powerful reps to keep their seats safe.

A Democrat friend of mine tried to make the case to me that Democrats worked harder this cycle, specifically in the 44th State Senate District that formerly belonged to longtime legislator John Rafferty. I’ll concede that point, at least in the 44th: there is no doubt that Katie Muth worked harder. She pounded the pavement and was a very visible and accessible candidate. But what she worked hardest at was honing the Democrats’ best weapon this cycle: stoking anti-Trump anger and translating it into votes for Democrats. If I were to nominate a person who best represents the mood of the Democratic party right now, the angry Katie Muth would be my choice as their poster child.

I submit that her hard work didn’t matter. As a control race, let’s examine the results of the 150th. There were no incumbents in this race and the seat has been traditionally Republican for years. Nick Fountain, the Republican candidate, worked his butt off. He had major surgery over the summer and was back out knocking doors within days. Nick had actual experience in local government and a vibrant, hard working team behind him. Meanwhile, from where I’m sitting, the only energy I saw demonstrated by the Joe Webster campaign was the effort it took to slap some “Veteran” stickers on some of his yard signs.

The only thing that mattered in that race was the R or the D after the candidates’ names. So let’s not talk about door knocking or hard work this cycle. It would not have mattered.

So the question is: do we cede the ground, or do we fight to take it back?

Submitted for your consideration

Before we dive back into this episode of What’s the Matter with Montco, here is some relevant food for thought from around the internet on the national results of the midterms: (each worth a click through for the whole article.)

Allahpundit at Hot Air from the impressively titled post, Soft-Spoken, Introspective Trump To Graciously Accept Responsibility For Dems’ House Takeover

He’ll do a pro forma congrats to Pelosi, I assume, and allow that he bears “maybe some” responsibility. But most of the hour will be spent on the following buck-passing points:
1. Forget the House. The Senate is all that matters.
2. Losing the House is actually good news, as a lot of the RINO-cuck deadwood has been cleared away. Now the GOP can focus on building a permanent Trumpist minority.
3. If anyone’s to blame it’s House Republicans themselves for not embracing him more closely. (He’s already floated that idea, actually.) What Carlos Curbelo should have done in a district that’s 70 percent Latino is gone all-in on ending birthright citizenship.
4. It’s Paul Ryan’s fault, of course. Reportedlyhe was workshopping this one yesterday too:

We talk often about the liberal mainstream media bias, but we rarely, if ever, note the damage done by our own right wing media. One of my favorite columnists, Kevin Williamson, makes this point at NRO:

Fox News has censured Sean Hannity for appearing at a Trump campaign event. I wonder if they have ever watched his show or listened to his radio program, which are explicitly and unapologetically campaign vehicles. It is not as though Hannity et al. were part of the Republican campaign apparatus — they are the Republican campaign apparatus, far more consequential to the political and (mercy!) intellectual direction of the GOP than is, say, Ronna McDaniel. (Who? Exactly.) The right-wing media caucus is a new kind of political constituency, one that now has a great deal more power than the Chamber of Commerce or other more traditional Republican interest groups. Conservative talk radio is an endless soap opera with only one story line — “Betrayal!” — which inevitably influences Republican political strategy. A Ted Cruz or a Scott Walker has basically two choices: Try to build a larger electoral coalition by bringing in more independents or a few Democrats alienated by (see below) the party’s direction, or go all-in on the Kulturkampf stuff and try to win your race by turning out the hardcore partisans and writing off everybody else. The narrative structure of talk-radio politics precludes compromise and coalition-building, being as it is oriented toward the takfiri model of discourse. That works, until it doesn’t.

The Editors at National Review (Yes, I know what you are thinking: oh Lisa, don’t you know how anti-Trump National Review is? I do. Which is exactly why Republicans should be reading it—to keep things in perspective. More on this in a minute)

President Trump and congressional Republicans have delivered important conservative policy victories, but they have not expanded the Republican coalition. Trump himself has alienated college-educated suburban voters who used to back Republicans, and the congressional party has not won the allegiance of all the formerly Democratic working-class voters who backed him in 2016. To win the elections of 2020 — to hold the presidency and the Senate, let alone to rebound in the House — they will probably need to do better with both groups.

Jonah Goldberg talks about the Hollowing Out of the American Political Parties: `

Outside groups — the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, unions, etc. — often do more to effectively organize voters around single issues or personalities than the parties do. The Kochs, Tom Steyer, George Soros, and Sheldon Adelson serve as party bosses, only outside the parties.

Technology is another, less obvious force siphoning power from the parties. For instance, as political historian Michael Barone has noted, the telephone dealt a grievous blow to political conventions, where insiders have outsize power

(…)

The Internet and cable TV have accelerated the eclipsing of parties. Opinion websites and TV and radio hosts now do more to shape issues and select candidates than the parties do. It’s a bit like comic books. Readership of comics has been in steady decline, but movie studios and toy manufacturers still feed off the brands created generations ago.

(…)

And yet, Americans keep talking about partisan politics as if the parties are in charge, and base voters on the left and the right keep railing against the party establishments like mobs unaware that they’re kicking dead horses.

Among the many problems with the rotting out of the parties is that the rot spreads. The parties are supposed to be where politics happens. McConnell’s point about money in politics is analogous to the larger trend. When you take political power out of the parties, other actors seize it.

When wielded by people who aren’t supposed to be in the politics business, that power corrupts. This is why every Academy Awards ceremony is peppered with asinine political jeremiads, and why late-night-comedy hosts serve as de facto Democratic-party organizers.

So what’s the way forward? I don’t have the answers, but I have a few thoughts we might consider in order to begin the long process of building bridges with the Democrats, Independents and formerly Republican Women that we need in order to win elections, because first and foremost, we don’t have the registration numbers. Locally, Republicans have benefitted for years by having Barack Obama in office. Regardless of the overall registration numbers, while he held the Presidency, Democrats were pretty much uninterested in local elections and for the most part, they stayed home and Republicans ruled the off-year Election Days.

Now that’s over. They are woke.

The Cult of the Presidency

Remember those Obama days? Remember how we laughed and laughed at the Democrats’ fawning worship of the Light Worker? The pretentious Greek columns? “We are the ones we are waiting for?” Hopenchange? Remember how ridiculous we thought that all was?

What happened? Because, by my reckoning, our own party has been overcome by the same cult of the Presidency. Politics infects everything. It’s exhausting.

Look, I’ve been very clear about my reasons for not discussing national politics on this blog, but national politics is bleeding into local politics and we need to find a way through it. So that being said, let me also say this: I support the President. He was not my first choice (or my second) but he is who we have, and overall, I have been pleased with his policies, his judges, and the economy, which is why I voted for him.

I hate his rhetoric, his tweeting and his constant trolling and I think he conducts himself in a most un-Presidential manner. I hate that his administration seems to always be mired in chaos. This—and pretty much this alone—is why he is so loathed by the left and moderates. The policy stuff is really an afterthought and you have to be politically engaged to really understand the ramifications of policy enough to be enraged over it. It’s Trump’s character and personality that are immediately accessible to even the most politically unengaged citizen. People want their President to act Presidential.

In the end, Trump is just a man. He’s not a super genius playing three dimensional chess on the worldwide stage. Not every bone-headed embarrassment for the administration is part of some grand master plan to which only he is privy and that he’s executing with the precision of a Swiss watch. He’s just a man, and a fallible one at that. We used to not be afraid to admit when one of our guys made a mistake and we used to not be afraid to call him out on it. Now you are some sort of traitor to your tribe if you even dare to criticize.

What happened to us?

To be very clear: I understand what liberals want. They want us to abandon Trump, deny him, renounce him. They want Republicans to save them from Trump and many of them are not going to be satisfied with anything less from our party.

I’m not talking about reaching out to those folks and I’m not talking about abandoning the President or his agenda. I think there is a certain part of their party, just like in ours, that is unreachable.

I’m talking about breaking through the tribalism, which is just another form of bigotry. Stop looking at everyone as a Democrat or Republican and start looking at them as an individual with fears and concerns unique to them. Most hyper partisans are just parroting what they’ve seen elsewhere. Individuals engaging individuals —without making everything about Trump—is what I’m talking about.

I could go on about the Cult of the Presidency for days. It’s one of the most disappointing trends I’ve seen in this country on both sides of the aisle and betrays an utter lack of education in American civics. Plus it totally lets Congress of the hook. What are we paying those people for but to be a co-equal branch of government? But I’m going to stop here before I meander too far down another tangent.

Stop Trolling Liberals

You can either agree with that assessment, or you can, like many Trumpers I know, gleefully embrace this behavior and take it on as your own when engaging with liberals.

snowflak

Newsflash: Your facebook meme isn’t changing anyone’s mind. It’s only serving to keep that anger stoked and solidify those divisions. So by all means, if you want to keep dealing with broken glass Democrats at the polls twice a year for the duration of Trump’s presidency, keep doing your part by pouring gasoline on the dumpster fire that already is social media. Snowflakes may not be commenting on your posts while you are drinking their salty tears, but they sure are reading.

And for God’s sake, why are we provoking voters at the polls? Is your message sign going to change anyone’s mind on their way into the polls? Is that “Jobs not Mobs” or “Stop Socialism” sign going to miraculously convert a Democrat and make them pull straight R on their way in to vote? No. It’s only going to further inflame them, so stop it. It serves no purpose.

Bottom line: Trump acts a certain way, but that doesn’t mean you have to. I was raised on the adage, “You catch more flies with honey,” and “Kill them with kindness.” I’m one of those folks who believes that it makes a difference if you are a little extra courteous on the road when your car is sporting a political bumper sticker. I believe each Republican is a representative of our party and every day we have an opportunity to engage with neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances and represent Republican values and morals. People who become centers of influence, who are able to convince people of their opinions, who can change people’s minds, do not go through life intentionally trying to piss people off for the twin goals of amusement and political point scoring. As I’ve said before, only Trump can be Trump. And only he should be.

Lose the Whataboutisms

When I’ve tried explaining the point above to fellow Republicans and partisans across the aisle, I get a full dose of the “whataboutisms.” You know what I’m talking about: “Well, whatabout when Obama did X? Was that ok?” “Whatabout when Trump did that?”

Who cares?

Just because the other side does it, it doesn’t mean its ok. Republicans should be better. We should be above it. If I can go back to another childhood adage: if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? Or who remembers this one: I don’t care WHO started it, I’m ending it!

Stop using the bad behavior of others to justify your own. Republicans can and should strive to be better. I don’t care if the other side is unhinged, and freely admit, many of them are. We are not trying to convert a movement; we’re trying to covert individuals. One at a time.

Every time you interact with someone, it’s an opportunity to sell your party, just by the virtue of you being a good person with membership in a larger voting block and belief in the values that built this Country.

Turn off talk radio

You will never learn how to build a bridge to the other side if you don’t understand how the other side thinks. And you won’t understand that if you stay inside an ideological echo chamber. Talk radio contributes to the polarization. Listen if you must, but don’t let that be your sole information diet. Think for yourself.

hannity
Conform. Stay with your tribe. Don’t think for yourself.

Now I’m not saying go crazy here. I’m not saying tune in to Rachel Maddow every day, or subscribe to Vox, but at least listen to how liberals are framing the issues so you can start talking to them instead of past them.

And let’s be clear here: The Democrats believe that they are doing what’s best for the Country. They do not think they are destroying the country; they think they are making it better. They believe in social justice and they believe their way is THE way and they believe they have the moral high ground.

Just like we do.

Calling them evil, no matter how much we disagree with their views, is not an argument against their ideas. Ad hominem attacks don’t work on us, why would they work on them?

Related: Stop whining about media bias. We know it exists and we know we’re the target and we know it’s unfair. This is our lot. Get over it and deal with it.

Dear MCRC: It’s not 1985 anymore

Ronald Reagan is not the president anymore and we have a registration disadvantage of about 50,000 voters. People do not just blindly pull the lever for Republicans in Montgomery County anymore. And why should they? We’ve been taking our voters for granted for years and we’ve stopped bothering to make a case for their support.

It’s time to admit that we are the minority party and we need to start acting like it.

80
Oh, the glory days….

This means stop the destructive power struggles. There is literally nothing to fight over except a wheezing organization that is limping from election to election. What kind of power comes with that?

Stop the picking and choosing of winners and losers with your favored support. Recognize you are in a rebuilding phase and stop acting like you actually have the luxury of destroying viable, quality candidates because of petty political differences or because someone gave you more money than someone else. The turnaround is not around the corner. It’s going to take a long time to get anything back and if a qualified candidate volunteers for the meat grinder that is running for elected office in this climate, you support them no matter what.

For that matter, stop endorsing candidates based on their ability to self-fund. We did that a couple times in recent memory and it was a disaster every single time. If you recruit good, viable, charismatic candidates, the party faithful will get behind them.

The Democrats were in the minority for years and they patiently chipped away at the majority. Now they are the majority.

And they have all of the problems that come with it. The Democrats are not an unbreakable monolith with no fault lines. There are very clear rivalries and divisions within their own party. There is infighting, power struggles and tons of incompetence, especially resulting from the emotionally cast votes of these last two elections (see just about every other post in this blog). Democrats have some #metoo problems of their own. They have problems governing.

Find those weaknesses, highlight them, and exploit them.

And stop letting them run unopposed, especially in the State House.

We used to know how to do this and now it’s almost like we are afraid to take them on, especially the more powerful amongst them.

Stop making deals with Democrat politicians. It almost always goes bad, and we have been betrayed in big and small ways by even those “good” democrats we think we can work with. Politically, first and foremost, they are Democrats and they will put party over a deal with a Republican every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Do you know why? Because they can. Because they are the majority party.

Oh, and as President Hillary Rodham Clinton once said, Josh Shapiro is not inevitable. Stop pussyfooting around him. It’s Montgomery County’s fault he made it to Harrisburg on the red carpet we laid out for him. We should not let him take another step up his very well defined political ladder. We owe that to the rest of the state.

Be smarter in how you deploy committee people

Committee people should be plugged in to their municipalities, highlighting those local issues where possible. How can the committee people endorse or promote a municipal or school board candidate if they are not attending meetings or plugged into the issues facing their communities?

The day the green ballot died
The day the green ballot died.

And while we are talking about committee people, is there a bigger waste of a committee person’s time than handing out literature at the polls? Hardly anyone takes it, hardly anyone reads it, and it changes no one’s mind. Yet not only do we insist on continuing this practice (and spending thousands of dollars on the printed materials), but we stress out over the green ballot, a handout that was forever rendered absolutely meaningless in the 2015 County election.

Even more ridiculous, we expect the candidates to pay for the privilege of appearing on this flyer. I’m not sure when it became the candidate’s responsibility to financially support the party apparatus, but this, too, needs to end.

A better use of a committeeperson’s time is that of striking. On Election Day, I’d say have a manned table outside and be more passive by just making the literature available. Voters don’t like walking the gauntlet, but for some reason, we think that putting them through it will earn us their vote.

In fact, I’m of the opinion that the only people who should be approaching voters on Election Day are candidates or elected officials. And elected officials should work a poll at every election—it gives them free face time with their constituents.

LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL

MCRC social media should not simply be a regurgitation of national news or Trump propaganda. MCRC exists for one reason and one reason alone: to elect local candidates. All MCRC should be talking about is local issues and how Republican governance can address these issues better than our Democratic counterparts.

Don’t stop at social media either. Send out regular press releases. The dead tree media loves content they don’t have to pay for. They will print it. Use the media for something other than attacking other Republicans.

The bench for higher office comes from our local municipal and school boards. Promote these folks, nurture the good candidates and support the local committees in their recruitment of candidates.

The County Party needs to be thinking longer term. They were caught flat footed in when the US Congressional Districts were re-mapped earlier this year and for the first time, after years of ceding our congressional representation to Chester County or Delco candidates, Montco finally has a congressional seat of their own. The race was a blood bath. But MCRC should already be thinking about and vetting candidates to take on Madeleine Dean in 2020.

But the Courthouse. The Courthouse has been under almost exclusive Democrat control for the last three years and in spite of several issues that have been gift wrapped and hand delivered to the County party, MCRC has been largely silent in making the case for Republican governance at the Courthouse. We are going to need a full slate of candidates ready to go in January and we haven’t begun to tell voters why they should be considering Republicans instead of Democrats.

There is really only one person who has been calling out County Democrats. Which brings us to….

Make your peace with Joe Gale

joe gale

Do whatever it takes to make this happen.

A good start would be to hire another, less compromised, person to do “security” for the next MCRC dinner.

I’m tired of hearing about bullet voting and the butthurt from 2015. There were sins committed on both sides of that election, which, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, was more about keeping Republicans busy fighting amongst ourselves so Josh Shapiro could coast to victory. Only one “Republican” benefitted from that election and when he’s not hustling “bipartisan” photo ops with his boss to desperate Republicans, he’s running fact-gathering missions for him disguised as “security” gigs .

Love him or hate him, Joe Gale has his own network of voters and he has a loyal following. He did not self-fund, but ran a successful, grassroots campaign that raised enough money to get him elected. This success cannot be denied, and he did this facing significant headwinds from the County Party. Republicans cannot afford another costly internecine war like 2015.

Start over. Start fresh and heal the party divide. MCRC leadership must check their egos at the door and work to get all members of this party back under the same tent.

Closing Thoughts

The bottom line is this: we have a very large registration disadvantage and we’re losing ground one tweet at a time. MAGA don’t play in SEPA, so we need to work around it. We need to make our party palatable first; viability and victory come afterward. That unquestioning Trump loyalty some of you insist upon? Yeah, you are going to need to go do that in the deep red center of the state, not in the Philly collar counties.

Image result for what can men do against such reckless hate? gif

There are many folks we’re simply never going to sell on Trump, but a lot of them once believed in our ideals, our competence and our candidates.

Admittedly, I’m not talking tactics or even strategy here; I’m talking about changing the tone. Stop seeing party and start seeing individuals. And though we share many of the same goals and ideals with each other, we need to make sure we are also being seen as individuals and not being lumped in as a just another unremarkable member of nameless, faceless group. End this toxic tribalism.

I’m not talking kumbaya here. Ok, maybe I am, a little bit. But it can’t hurt. And I’m not excusing the outrageousness of the far left, who has effectively taken over the Democrat Party. I’m just talking about being civil to your neighbors to begin to give folks an viable alternative to this exhausting level of contant rage that infects everything in our society.

Republicans are the underdogs in SEPA. And America has always been a sucker for an underdog.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 10/15/18 Episode 17: The Burning Ring of Fire

The October 15 meeting was truly noteworthy for several reasons. Pearson is jittery and nervous throughout the entire meeting, having trouble following the agenda, fumbling papers, losing his place. The reasons for this will soon become apparent.

Calci is not present for this meeting.

I don’t want to belabor the opening of this post with yet another snarky commentary about Pearson’s ridiculous opening “story,” but, believe it or not, this one is particularly relevant to the meeting. The story is called “The Post Turtle:”

While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75 year old Texas rancher, whose hand was caught in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man.

Eventually the topic got around to politics and then they discussed some new guy who was far too big for his shoes as a politician.

The old rancher said, ‘Well, ya know, he is a post turtle’. Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle’ was.

The old rancher said, ‘When you’re driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a ‘post turtle’.

The old rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor’s face, so he continued to explain. ‘You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there in the first place.’

Fear not, Gentle Reader: I’ll have some snarky comments about this story a bit later on in this post. For now, let’s dive in to the heart of this meeting.

John Pearson’s Ten Minutes of Hell

We’ll begin our examination of this meeting at the 12:48 mark. It is at this point that the Board is contemplating the appointment of representatives to the joint committee with Trappe Borough, tasked with exploring a regional solution for Fire and Emergency Services and moving the Trappe Fire Company into Upper Providence Township. This issue was discussed at length, and agreed to unanimously at the September 20 joint meeting with Trappe Borough, the fact of which Pearson needs to be repeatedly reminded over the next ten minutes. Recall as well, Pearson has already tabled this vote once, at the October 1 meeting, and now it appears that his two week reprieve is over. Pearson:

New Business. On n-new business this evening, we have…there are two items on tonight’s new business. One is to consider appointing Township representatives to serve on a joint Fire and EMS Services committee with representatives from Trappe Borough and the second one is to consider authorizing the appointment of representatives from Trappe Fire Company on the Emergency Services Facility Design Committee.

Pearson then takes a big breath, and reads from his prepared remarks, which translates to one, big, run-on sentence. The punctuation is mine, Gentle Reader, for ease of your comprehension:

I’m recommending that we table these two items, again, this evening, until we bring Mr. John Muir aboard, before we start making any decisions with Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company and then our regionalizing efforts with Trappe, regarding Fire and EMS, we need to re-read the several fire studies the township ordered and listen to what Mr. Muir has to offer, I welcome Mr. Muir’s expertise in guiding us through this process, I am not opposed to moving forward, I have very little knowledge in this area and have decided to walk cautiously through the process, this is a major endeavor and a costly one and I want to get it right the first time around and not second guess my decisions later on down the road, ummmmm, I am open to whatever comments the rest of this board would like to make on this, but my recommendation at this point in the game, is to table these two items.

Barker asks if Trappe Borough has not already established a committee.

ehhhh
Please table this. I’m begging you.

Tieperman responds that they have appointed three members, consisting of Trappe Borough Council President, Vice President, and Borough manager.

Vagnozzi reminds everyone that there was a joint public meeting with Trappe Borough, where everyone present—including Pearson—agreed that both municipalities would move forward with a regional, combined fire company, to wit: Appoint council, share costs, and appoint representatives from each municipality, and explore moving the Trappe Volunteer Fire Company into Upper Providence Township. (Details on that meeting can be found HERE).

Vagnozzi goes on:

“Their seven members and our five, there was nobody at that meeting that had an issue with it. All were generally in favor of it, pending working out the details. During the meeting, we all spoke about the need for regionalization and improving the fire services in the northern part of town. No deference to the Black Rock Fire Company, they are in the southern part of town and we have an 18 square mile township. Trappe Fire Company is in need of a new building, and we all decided that it would be in our best interests for both communities to explore improving the building, which would improve the fire service to our Township.”

Vagnozzi then states that at this point, all that is left to do is appoint counsel and appoint two members from the Board to represent Upper Providence. This is not entirely correct, since counsel, John Muir, was appointed at the 10/1 meeting, for which Vagnozzi was not present. The confusion on this is wholly understandable since John Pearson’s desperation to avoid taking a vote on this will continue to hinge on his appeal to Muir’s authority. Everyone has forgotten he has already been appointed; a fact which Bresnan clears up later in the meeting.

Vagnozzi concludes, “Again, everybody discussed, and everybody agreed, that this was a good direction to go into.”

Ladies and gentlemen: It’s time to tap dance.

I’m not, I’m not against this, Al. I’m, I’m, I’m not opposed to, to us, you know, doing this. I’m opposed to doing it right at this moment until we get a little bit more information. Uhhhh, uhhh, I’m not, as I said, I’m not an expertise in this field, I have very little knowledge, all I, all I know is what I’ve read in some of the fire reports that we, that we’ve requested over the years. Uhhhhmmm, I wanna, I want, I want to see where Mr. Muir can take us on this, uhhhhm, I, I, I’m looking forward to somebody GUIDING us through this thing, I, I, I don’t wanna, uhhhh…..ehhhm…ahhhh,.I wanna make sure that it’s right, I don’t want, I don’t wannnaaaaahh….”

Joe Bresnan steps in and mercifully calls a halt to Pearson’s stammering before he hurts himself. But before we move on with the rest of this meeting, I just have to say:

Sounds like bullshit
Hmmm….what does this sound like? Oh yes. It sounds like bullsh#t.

Come. On.

This performance and pathetic excuse making must challenge even the most generous of those Regular Readers, who have, up to this point, still been willing to suspend disbelief and give John Pearson the benefit of the doubt where Fire and Emergency Services are concerned.

That John Pearson has “very little knowledge” about Fire and Emergency Services is a given. He was, after all, willing to hand the entire operation over to his bar buddies at the Black Rock Fire Company.

This has all been meticulously documented through numerous posts throughout the year and the post detailing the findings of the RTK I filed at the end of July. When questioned about the documents contained in the RTK on September 4, both John Pearson, and his automatic “yes” vote, Helene Calci, immediately disavowed the policy they had been pushing through behind the scenes for several months. As a reminder, this policy, which first surfaced through emails in March of 2018—before any vote on Fire and EMS Services had been taken on this matter at a public meeting—contained the following documented points, many of which were either enacted or well underway to implementation:

  • The centrally located Township paid Engine 93 crew would cease to respond from the centrally located Township Municipal campus on Black Rock Road and instead be moved to the southeastern section of the Township, to BRVFC’s Oaks Firehouse.
  • The Township’s paid crew would be merged into BRVFC’s organization (Station 99), instead of vice-versa, i.e. become a volunteer organization that is supplemented by career staff.
  • BRVFC would have command at all scenes over the Township’s paid Fire Chief
  • The Township’s paid Fire Chief would get demoted to Fire Marshall and his call number would not be 99, but 68. He would also have no ultimate authority over Fire operations.
  • Mandates for equipment reductions were removed.
  • Training standards and minimum qualifications were removed.
  • A committee to redraw the “boxes,” the service areas for all of the responding fire companies, was formed with only Township and BRVFC members included.
  • A committee to provide input on the design and specifications of the proposed, centrally located building was formed with only Township and BRVFC members.
  • The proposed, centrally located Township fire house is referenced in “Draft” policy documents as “The Black Rock Fire Company Central Station.”
  • BRVFC named the primary fire service provider of Upper Providence Townships through the sole authority of John Pearson.

Other critical points of development on Fire and EMS over the last year include, but are not limited to, the following:

Very little knowledge
“I have very little knowledge.”

For a guy who “has very little knowledge” about fire and emergency services, John Pearson sure seemed to be the only Supervisor engaged in the development of the FEMS policy that has dominated a majority of the Board meetings in 2018. Indeed, of the eighteen meetings the Board has held this year, including the joint meeting with Trappe Borough Council, in-depth discussions on Fire and Emergency Services have taken place at twelve of them; and at some of those meetings, FEMS was the only topic of discussion.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled meeting.

Bresnan, bless his heart, seems to think that Pearson’s desperation in removing this item from the agenda is somehow procedurally related. (LOL. As if Pearson has any idea of what the procedure should be that he would recognize a deviation.) Bresnan, who is admittedly unclear as to what Pearson’s problem is on this, bottom-lines it for Pearson, stating that all legal and procedural hurdles have been cleared, so he is free to take a vote on this.

Www….well, well, there’s a whole, l-look, look: I, I, I keep saying, I’m, I’m, aaahhh—I’ve got very little knowledge in this area and it bothers me. And, and whenever I need legal advice, I go to my solicitor. Whenever I need engineering advice, I go to my engineer, okay? When I have, when I have questions or comments th-that, that I need answers from, I’m going to expect that I can go to this gentleman and, and he’s gonna give me the correct answer. So all I’m saying is at this point in the game, I’m, I’m asking that we table this, I mean it’s okay if, if, if ehhh, someone wants toooo make a motion and do this, that’s fine! And we’ll take a vote on this, I don’t have a problem with doing, you know, going through the process. Uhhhmmm, you can probably already figure out which way I’m gonna vote on this thing. My, my, my point is….I wanna get it right, I don’t want any, you know, ehhhhh, having marrying two fire companies is a very difficult process and I have never seen one that goes through without any hitches. And that’s my reason for this whole thing, it’s like, ehhhh…..”

It’s easy to understand Bresnan’s confusion in response to this stammering mess. Plus, Bresnan can remain cool since he is not the recipient of the unnerving glares from BRVFC President Joe LoCasale and completely non-affiliated, non-official non-spokesperson, the unshamable Lori Kasper, who have wisely chosen to sit outside of the Township camera angles for this meeting.

“Do you mean you want to speak to John [Muir] first, before the vote?” Bresnan asks.

And now Person is panicking and clearly agitated, as if being called upon to answer for this inexplicable stance is somehow everyone’s fault but his.

thumb image

Indeed, Pearson is so worked up by the end of this stuttering diatribe that he’s practically choking on the words. In spite of his protestations to the contrary, it is abundantly clear that he does, indeed, have a problem with all of this.

“Well, no, I’m asking him to look into this information, to see, you know, uhhh, to give me uhh, an idea as to see, you know, where I am before we start taking steps forward on this. Ehhhh….I, I , I have nothing, I have no problem, I have no problem, I have no problem moving forward with this, but I’m waiting to get some more information from the expert here before I start moving forward on this thing. I have no problem with the, with the whole concept of, of, of ehhm…making one unified fire company, I have no problem with trying to regionalize with Trappe, I, I, I’m all for that. I’m just not ready to take the step now without having some expert (unintelligible) without ha–, without having some expert in here, guiding me along through this process, that’s all I’m saying.”

I have no problem I have no problem
“I have no problem. No problem with any of this. Really.”

A couple of points here before we get to Phil Barker’s coolly laid out motion, which is now on the tracks and heading downhill without any brakes straight on for Pearson.

So is Muir supposed to “look into this information” without first being engaged by the Township? Pearson’s request/excuse here is ridiculous on its face since if Muir hasn’t been appointed, he would need to be appointed before he would be “looking in to any information,” and Pearson doesn’t even want to do that. Since he has been appointed, and Pearson himself cast a vote in favor of that at the 10/1 meeting, the whole appeal to authority is moot. What “information” is Muir going to “look into” without the fully populated committee who hired him? It’s the Joint Committee who is responsible for “looking into this information” and Muir was retained to advise them, not John Pearson individually.

And let’s not forget how important sticking to the sacred Timeline for Implementation of the Glorious Milestones has been since the April 16 meeting. As has been documented in numerous blog posts, as well as by the Township’s cameras, pushing through the Fire Services policy this year has been happening so quickly, most times Pearson isn’t even waiting for a vote to move the policy forward. He is on record at several meetings this year, pointing to the need to stay on the Timeline, the overall impression being one of getting Pearson’s and BRVFC’s policy in place before anyone figures out what’s happening.

In fact, once the light of day hit this policy direction, in the form of a confrontation by Vagnozzi at a public meeting on September 4, Pearson and Calci could not back pedal away from it fast enough, denying anything had been moved forward, denying knowledge of policy points, denying that the policies BRVFC had allegedly written were anything but “drafts.”

I'm not an expertise in this field
“I am not an expertise in this field.”

Now here we are, a mere six weeks later, and suddenly it’s time to slow down. Pearson needs to re-read studies that are at least four years old. He needs to proceed with caution, to make sure we get it right. This, after Pearson went on record as being 100% supportive of the regionalization efforts at the joint meeting with Trappe Borough on September 20. This, after Pearson has repeatedly shrugged off Township issues with the Black Rock Fire Company over the course of his three terms, wherein he has opined in my presence, more than once, that Fire and Emergency Services needs to be regionalized rather than work through any issues. As is still the case today, the heavy lifting on any problems with BRVFC was left for others to do.

paint into corner

Gentle Readers, I cannot abide this, and I cannot even give Pearson the slightest benefit of the doubt here. My theory based on careful observation throughout this year, and again, your mileage may vary, is that Pearson made promises to Black Rock Fire Company and Pearson made statements at public meetings as the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and he simply cannot follow through on one set of statements without completely betraying the other. He has very neatly painted himself into a corner.

Having spent most of his previous terms on the Board of Supervisors completely uninterested in fire matters, I don’t believe that Pearson’s interest in this subject has increased; rather I believe the intent here was to simply punt again, in typical Pearson fashion, but this time to punt to Black Rock Fire Company and let them act as the “expertise” Pearson so dearly needs to “guide” him through his responsibilities.

It was a good deal for BRVFC, who instead of having to fight for an increase in their share of Township funding, would have access to the whole pot of money, especially once the “boxes” had been redrawn. They would not only have ground floor access to decision makers and influencers at the Township, but their members would be first in line when the Township starts inevitably hiring full-time firefighters. Additionally, all of that pesky accountability those noodges at the Township were demanding, that would all go away once they were in charge. It was the smart move for an organization that saw the writing on the wall for the future of volunteer fire companies and was unwilling and/or unable to adapt to the increasing demands that come with the changing industry and accountability attached to tax dollars as a primary funding source. Unfortunately for them, they put their faith in a flawed leader.

Now, once again, back to our meeting:

Barker:

“When we left that Trappe meeting, we all agreed that we would get a committee together to look into it. We’ve not made a commitment other than, develop a committee to investigate it and find a neutral person who has done this type of process before. His credentials have been forwarded to us, and I think are exactly that. So I’d like to make a motion on item number 4 to appoint Al Vagnozzi and Helene Calci, and Assistant Manager Bryan Bortnichak to our committee to represent Upper Providence Township in this joint Fire and EMS Services Committee. And along with that, to appoint Mr. Muir as the professional consultant to that committee.”

Here comes the motion
Oh God. Here comes the motion.

At this point, Bresnan interrupts and states that the appointment of Mr. Muir was handled at the previous Board meeting and his role clarified. Barker makes the motion, and Vagnozzi immediately seconds. Pearson calls for the vote.

Vagnozzi and Barker vote Aye

Pearson votes No.

Pearson then looks at Higgins and says, “I didn’t hear from you.”

Higgins: “I was hoping there would be a little more discussion, perhaps John instead of Helene, but since this is the vote….”

Barker explains that he nominated Helene because she was actively involved in all of the other fire policy discussions, and Pearson jumps in and tells her, “I have no problem not being on it.”

After which, Laurie Higgins votes Aye.

Pearson can’t move the agenda along fast enough, and when the next item, the item to appoint two Trappe Volunteer Fire Fighters to the Emergency Services Facility Design Committee, Barker throws Pearson a bone and magnanimously agrees to table that item. If Pearson wants to. Which he does. Absolutely.

But before he can just let it rest, Pearson feels compelled to address this issue one more time, and though his remarks are ostensibly addressed to the Board, I suspect these comments are really aimed at two members in the audience, who are strategically sitting off camera with their arms crossed, glaring at him (one of whomto be clear— has nothing whatsoever to do with the BRVFC):

“Just to reiterate here, okay? I want everyone at the Board here to understand. I’m not opposed to us going forward with all of this. I’m opposed to us going forward at this particular time. I, I’ve already made my case on this thing and there’s not much else I can do about it, the Board has decided it, they are going to move forward with it. So be it.”

Translation: I tried the best I could guys, but I was outvoted. It’s totally not my fault that this all fell apart. See you at Quizzo next week?

The now infamous John Muir gives a presentation to the Board at the end of the meeting. Muir has an extensive and impressive background in Fire and Emergency Services. I met him last year when I first began meetings with Trappe, Royersford and Collegeville and he came in to give the group a presentation with background on regionalization and how it had been handled in other municipalities.

During Supervisor comments, both Higgins and Pearson make a point of thanking BRVFC for the use of their hall for Township meetings. Pearson however, has taken the time to compose a love letter and reads from prepared remarks:

I wrote a little something about that too. Sometimes we lose sight of the important things in life, our parents taught us to be polite and do the right things. But even as we mature, we forget the little things in life that are so meaningful and important no matter how small. Please and thank you are important, so to Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company, please forgive me for not showing my appreciation for the use of your hall. Secondly, I thank you for hosting us while we await the opening of our facility, like Laurie said, we appreciate, ehhh, we at the Township appreciate your generosity.

Bleh. “Please forgive me for not showing my appreciation for the use of your hall….?” What the heck is that supposed to mean? C’mon man. Now you’re just embarrassing yourself.

Before we cover the rest of this meeting, there are a few things here that cannot go unremarked upon.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

First and foremost: Kudos to Laurie Higgins. Sincerely.

I am fully aware of how relentless I have been with Pearson’s Girls® this year, and there is a reason for that.

Making decisions as a Township Supervisor is both difficult and easy. It’s difficult in that, as a Supervisor, you are tasked with learning about all manner of dry subject matter: land development, sewer, planning, zoning, roads, budgeting, finance, public safety, recreation, etc. Add to that, time spent dealing with issues brought forth by the public and solving problems for your constituency. Anyone who thinks this is simply a part-time job is fooling themselves.

long way

So it naturally angered me when, after John Pearson’s Upper Providence First Worst PAC successfully campaigned 2016 to expand the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors from three to five members on the premise of having “two more sets of eyes” on the issues, those two other sets of eyes opted to be willfully blind. For the better part of the year, the two Democrat women seemed more interested in providing backup for Pearson’s Agenda of Petty Retribution and Crony Favor Granting than actually even learning basic procedure, let alone getting up to speed on the issues in front of the Board. This is doubly offensive to me when local and national Democrats are embracing identity politics and putting forward candidates whose only qualifications are their two X chromosomes.

In recent weeks, however, Higgins, at least, has been showing signs of life. She has been engaged in development projects that have come before the board, and has obviously taken the time to read the review letters and come up with relevant pointed questions.

She was on record as early as February as being interested in a regionalized solution for Fire and EMS. Yet it is abundantly clear to any outside observer of this meeting that the vote she threw in favor of the appointments to the Joint Committee with Trappe was a difficult one for her to cast: continue to provide cover for your inept political ally or do what you think is best for the Township.

Which brings us to the easy part of making decisions as a Township Supervisor: always do what’s in the best interest of the Township. I have often said that if the Board members are acting with this axiom at heart, there would be far more agreement amongst them. That judgment can only be clouded if Board members are putting their trust in others for doing the research they should be doing themselves and letting others make their decisions, which is why I harp on the homework aspect of the job so much.

To be clear, I’m not giving kudos to Higgins for voting the way I wanted her to vote, though I am pleased that she did; I’m giving kudos to Higgins for voting independently, for the good of the Township. I don’t expect that Higgins will always vote the way I’d like her to, but as long as her vote is HER OWN, and she arrived at it independently, through her own research, and in good conscience, to paraphrase another Supervisor, “I have no problem with it.”

The Post Turtle

To revisit our little fable from the beginning of the meeting, courtesy of John Pearson’s ego, let’s skip to the punchline: What is a Post Turtle?

You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there in the first place.

Coincidentally, a friend sent me this fable referring to Pearson sometime back in February after I started up this Blog. I actually got quite a chuckle out of the fact that Pearson used this tale as his insufferable little “story” at the beginning of this meeting.

But it raises really good questions: Pearson didn’t get up on that post by himself. He clearly enlisted the help of Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company, Republicans members of Upper Providence First Worst and Area 4 Democrats, among others, to get him up there. The Fire and Emergency Services Policy that was so rapidly being implemented between March and September of this year was very obviously payback to BRVFC for services rendered in service to his election.

Quizzo at the dive bar
Upper Providence First Worst members in a “bait” photo posted in June 2018. L to R: Julie Mullin, UPT Tax Collector, Lori Kasper, not affiliated with BRVFC in any way, John Pearson, Chairman, UPT Board of Supervisors, Bill Kasper, Assistant Chief BRVFC, Jim White, Appointed Upper Providence Township Vacancy Chair.

The Area 4 Democrats have some skin in this game as well. Not only did they wholeheartedly support the Democrat ticket in Upper Providence, but they actually endorsed Upper Providence First Worst member and proud Quizzo participant, Republican Tax Collector, Julie Mullin. Further, they didn’t even put up a Democratic challenger against her last year for her “very lucrative part time job.” They also, for some reason, endorsed a Republican candidate for School Board, who beat Laurie Higgins’ sometime canvassing partner, Democrat Kathleen Drennan. Drennan was the only Democrat on the Upper Providence ballot to lose in a year when most folks were voting straight Democrat.

What have the Area 4 Democrats gotten in return for their investment in John Pearson’s leadership?

Not a single municipal appointment or contract. Upper Providence was a ripe, rich, juicy plum ready to be plucked for Montgomery County Democrats and, almost a year later, they have absolutely nothing to show for their efforts.

The question I have is: Why?

Why did Pearson enlist so much help and make so many deals and tell so many lies to get himself elected?

Post Turtle

He’s not good at this and he doesn’t even seem to enjoy it. He truly doesn’t belong up there and he clearly doesn’t know what he is doing. He’s demonstrated little to no interest in subjects he can’t easily politicize. The subjects he can politicize, he does so ineptly. He hardly canvassed at all last year, preferring instead to let Higgins handle the door knocking while he stayed back at the Fitz, “holding down the fort.” His big contribution to the “Fresh Perspectives” campaign was the Port Providence Paddle school bus, on which he hung his obnoxious campaign banner and then parked illegally all around town, notably at Wegmans and at the Rec Center during Upper Providence Community Day.

Nobody enlists this many favors in service to their election, while exerting this little personal effort, for a job they don’t seem to have that much interest in, just to spend their entire term paying back those favors.

There is a reason that Pearson needed to win election last year.

It’s really worth pondering on a serious level: What kind of a dumb ass put Pearson up there and what is it that they want?

Meet me in the Middle

After many years, the Lower Perkiomen Valley Regional Sewer Authority (“LPVRSA”) is finally ready to move forward with the middle interceptor. This 3,000 foot section of pipe has been the source of a years’ long protracted battle between LPVRSA and Lower Providence Township, whose residents fought the placement of the pipe on their properties. The drama and histrionics of this battle have been covered in-depth elsewhere (see here for an excellent summary of the issue) and will not be rehashed here.

LPVRSA is seeking a zoning variance for the impact of the steep slopes on the Upper Providence side of the creek. Barker, familiar with the history of this issue, says there is no reason to send the solicitor to oppose the application, since it no longer impacts any structures on the Upper Providence side of the creek. After years of taking their property piecemeal for the Arcola Road Bridge, the Perkiomen Trail Bike Path, and the sewer, the home that was being impacted the most by the Middle Interceptor was finally purchased and demolished by the sewer authority.

Barker remarks that, “It’s not where we want it, but there is nowhere else for it to go.” Even though a motion opposed to sending the Solicitor to the ZHB on this matter is not required, Barker wants the record to reflect that the Township supports the project.

Twilight Zone, Again

There is another prolonged discussion regarding an item before the zoning hearing board and whether or not the Board wants to send the solicitor to oppose it. Again, general confusion

Confused Confusion GIF

is demonstrated by Pearson as to what it is that they are discussing and asked to decide upon. The application is from an individual who wants to build an oversized house on an undersized lot on the north side of 422 at the end of Yeager Road across from the entrance to the school. This is his second time before the ZHB and the ZHB denied him the first time. Barker, who agreed with the ZHB’s original decision, would like the applicant to come before the Board and explain what, exactly, his hardship is. Pearson, of course, is willing to punt to the ZHB as usual.

Barker’s concern, which I share, is if the variance is granted, that there are a lot of these small, undersized lots all around the Township and if one gets approved, they will all seek approval of this. Perhaps if the applicant comes before the Board, they can understand what it is the applicant is trying to do and maybe work with him to put something more favorable there.

Bresnan suggests that since the ZHB is scheduled to hear this on November 1, that they vote to send the solicitor, contingent upon the applicant granting a continuance, when he can come in to make a case before the Board.

Barker makes the motion and successfully makes his case, and the motion passes unanimously.

Other Board Business

  • There is a bit of confusion and discussion at the beginning of the meeting on the approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, of all things, primarily due to Calci making a motion for the wrong dollar amount.
  • The Board approves budget workshop meetings to take place on October 29, October 30 and November 1.
  • After three tries, the Township was successful in getting a $927,000 multi-modal grant to realign the intersection at 29, Jacob and Walnut Streets in Mont Clare.
  • The Township was awarded a $196,000 grant for Lot 60 Upper Schuylkill Valley Park trail.
  • Township got a 50% cost share grant for the purchase of body cameras for the Upper Providence Police.
  • Holly Brinton is introduced as the new Rec Center Manager.
  • The Recreational Needs Assessment Survey, which will determine the future of the Rec Center, should be going out to residents in November.
  • The Board approves sending a letter drafted by the Township Planner to the Limerick Board of Supervisors asking for traffic concessions for the proposed Restaurant Depot. This was a result of a resident’s concerns voiced during public comment at the October 1 meeting.
  • The Board approves to apply for a grant to improve the intersection at Black Rock Road and 113.
  • The Board approves an amendment for the contract to complete the Lock 60 trail design costs in the amount of $26,529.
  • Bresnan reports that all of Barker’s requested changes have been made to the administrative code. Barker requests that the motion to approve the code be tabled, since he only got it the Friday before and has not had an opportunity to thoroughly review.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 10/1/18 Episode 16: Hodge Podge Dodge

The October 1 Board of Supervisors meeting was held at the Oaks Firehouse.

Again.

I am not sure if this is a quasi-permanent change in venue until the new meeting hall is opened or why this change of venue was dictated by the Board. Recall that the Board was previously meeting at the Rec Center, but since September, they have been meeting at the Oaks Firehouse.

crowd
No need for a bigger meeting hall.

Was the change made to avoid still-angry Rec Center members from stopping in to a Board meeting after their few remaining workouts? Was it made as a concession to the BRVFC? The change of venue could not have been because the Rec Center room was too small to accommodate the public, could it? After the Democrats campaigned so diligently against the new building, I’m sure they’d be completely content to continue to ignore residents standing outside the glass, being unable to participate in the meetings.

Since the purpose of this change in venue was never announced, sadly, we can only engage in rank speculation as to the cause of it. At least we know the end is in sight, as in response to a question during public comment, Tim Tieperman announced that after some water problems in the existing building, they should be able to hold meetings in the new meeting hall by November.

Related image
I could share my random thoughts!

Pearson’s tiresome “short story” this evening is not a short story at all, but as he calls it, a random collection of “thoughts.” It appears that this week, he actually is just reading bumper stickers and he’s more nervous than usual. Even though I mentioned this in the previous Meeting Notes only as a commentary and not as actual advice, the overall depth and usefulness of the philosophy remains constant.

Thanks for reading, John!

Vagnozzi was not present, which left Barker to shoulder all of the heavy lifting alone for this meeting.

The meeting clocks in at a fairly reasonable 1:21. There’s a veritable cornucopia issues to cover and, along with that, so much responsibility to avoid. Let’s dive in, shall we?

High Water Mark

The Township’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Rich Ressel, approaches the Board to explain a proposal to put another flood gauge in the Township. Upper Providence has a flood gauge on the Schuylkill River down by the Reynolds Dog Park; this is a proposal to put one on the Perkiomen Creek. The proposal needs to come before the Board because the best location for the flood gauge is on the County-owned Arcola Road Bridge and the Township needs to enter into a contract with the County in order to place it there.

As long-time residents know, the Perkiomen Creek is very susceptible to flooding and tends to rise and fall rapidly during stormy conditions.

Pearson then claims that he goes out on the FEMA website to get statistics on the Schuylkill River. He wants to know if we are going to be able to pull this information up online. Speaking of the Schuylkill flood gauge, Pearson says, “It’s a good tool for me for where I have a property, so…uh…”

Image result for titanic flooding gif
If I could just…SEE….that flood gauge…….

Ressell says that will be available “eventually.” He also says that our Schuylkill River flood gauge is the only flood gauge in the country with its own Twitter feed, where people can get updates every 20 minutes. According to Ressell, The USGS will not put a flood gauge on their website until there are two solid years of data available. At this point, the Schuylkill flood gauge has only been active a little over a year. The same thing will be true of the proposed Perkiomen Creek gauge, but, according to Ressell, that information will be available to “us.” I am unclear as to whether this means Township employees or the general public. The Schuylkill Twitter feed is available to the public and can be found here. Presumably, the Perkiomen Creek flood gauge will have the same Twitter functionality, but the proposal here is for a camera as well, so folks can actually see how high the creek is.

Imagine how useful this will be for someone who, for instance, owns a kayak rental business! Someone whose home fronts the Perkiomen Creek and whose Canal Street business fronts the Schuylkill!

Kayak Rescue

Patch, October 8, 2018:

PHOENIXVILLE, PA — Two kayakers were rescued after they became stranded on the Schuylkill River near Phoenixville over the weekend.

The incident occurred at around 1:45 p.m. on Sunday on a small island near where French Creek empties into the creek.

Two boats, one from Phoenixville Fire Department, and one from Friendship Fire Company Diving-Rescue Unit, were dispatched to assist.

Once rescuers located the kayakers, they had to cross a shoal and a deeper stretch of river to reach them, officials said.

The two individuals were taken safely back to Canal Street in Port Providence without any injuries.

WFMZ, August 6, 2018:

UPPER PROVIDENCE TWP., Pa. – Two kayakers were rescued from the Schuylkill River Sunday afternoon.

Officials say the rescue involved a man and woman in Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County.

The man’s kayak flipped over when it hit debris. Officials say he was hanging onto that debris when he was rescued.

The woman’s kayak did not flip but emergency crews helped her out of the water.

Officials are warning people to be careful around rivers in the area after the past two weeks of heavy rain.

Missed Appointments

You can always tell when Pearson doesn’t want to have too much discussion on an issue before the Board. When the agenda item to appoint attorney John Muir as a professional consultant regarding Fire and Emergency Services matters comes up, he tries to curtail any discussion and immediately asks for a motion:

I think…I’m, I’m pretty sure we all know what this is all about. Ehhh, we wanna hire this guy to give us some direction to get us moving in the right direction with our fire and emergency services situation. So I’ll just entertain a motion on that.”

nothing to see

Not so fast.

Barker wants to know: “Will he not come before the Board to do a presentation of some sort?”

Bresnan says that the direction he got from the joint meeting with Trappe was that all parties wanted to move forward with Muir as a consultant. Further, Bresnan’s direction from staff was to move this forward as quickly as possible so the joint Trappe-UPT committee can begin to have meetings regarding Fire and EMS.

Barker says he is willing to take him on as a consultant, but if the Township is unable to work out an agreement with Trappe, then Muir will have nothing to do.

Bresnan responds that this is just preliminary to get the ball rolling and see Muir’s fee schedule. Barker agrees to that and makes the motion to appoint, which passes unanimously.

Moving right along, Pearson continues on to the next agenda item, which is an event fee waiver, but before we move on, Gentle Reader, there is the small matter of the two missing agenda items, highlighted on the agenda below.

Draft Agenda1

I know, I know: “It’s just a DRAFT!”

Agenda Item 8 is to put two Supervisors on a joint committee with Trappe to hammer out the details of a regionalized Fire and EMS department with Trappe Borough.

Agenda Item 9 is to put two Trappe Volunteer firefighters on the building committee. This committee will provide input into the design and specifications of the Township’s proposed new centrally located Fire and EMS building.

Recall that previously, the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night had appointed only BRVFC members and Township staff to this committee, there were no volunteers, representing either EMS or Fire, from any of the Township’s other responding organizations, though, presumably, they would have been using this building as well. Interestingly, there were two Trappe Volunteer Firemen in the audience, yet no one was present from BRVFC, unless you count BRVFC’s non-official, non-spokesperson Lori Kasper.

Why were these items tabled, but the appointment of John Muir was not?

Caution: More Rank Speculation Ahead:

speculation

I would assume that the appointment of Muir was necessary in keeping the timeline for moving forward with the joint Trappe-UPT meetings simply because Muir represents an outside third party, and they cannot afford to dawdle with his engagement. After all, the Township is committed to the consulting attorney per the joint meeting on September 20. The appointment of the two supervisors to the joint committee and the appointment of the Trappe Firefighters, however, those could be, and were, put off until the next meeting, October 16 because they are appointments internal to the municipality.

My guess is that Pearson simply did not have enough cover, or guts, at the October 1 meeting to be seen as a leader continuing to steer the township away from its previously determined (and promised) course (as outlined in the “Draft” documents found HERE) on Fire and EMS. And though I truly wasn’t paying attention, I would bet that I was not the only recipient of a glare from Mrs. Kasper—who, to be clear,  per her facebook page (which has since gone private) is NOT affiliated with the Black Rock Fire Company, no matter how much she presumes to speak for them or involve herself in their business. Indeed, Pearson couldn’t scurry to her side fast enough at the conclusion of the meeting. Would a discussion of a Quizzo night strategy warrant his anxious rush to have a hushed conversation with her?

Taking for Grant-ed

The Township’s Traffic Engineer, Ken O’Brien talks about the Black Rock Trail connection from Route 29 to the Township campus. PennDOT recommended that the right turn lane from 29 on to Black Rock Road be improved, as the turn is too tight and trucks cannot properly make the turn, and they are consistently running over the curb and damaging it. The cost for the change order is $38,140.98.

Mr. Grant
How about another $38,140.98?

Barker wants to know: what was the total amount of grant money the Township received for this project? O’Brien says the Township initially requested $250,000 and the state approved $196,000. The estimate for this project was $205,000 before the PennDOT requested change order. The Township has already spent $75,000 in engineering and inspections.

Doing the math, Barker notes that the Township is approaching $300,000, leaving them on the hook for about $100,000 for this project and asks O’Brien if they will increase the grant. O’Brien says he does not anticipate that they will, but that he can ask.

It’s a problem making the motion to approve the change order, because neither of Pearson’s Girls® is quite sure how to do it. Eventually they “move to make a motion” and end up approving unanimously.

Code Breakers

Most of the last half hour of the meeting is spent by the Board— rather, just Phil Barker— discussing the Administrative Code. For the uninitiated, the Administrative Code is essentially the law, or ordinance, that determines how the Board of Supervisors will govern.

So in other words, it’s THEIR code. It’s kind of a big deal–at least it should be— for that reason.

Nothing to add
Phil’s got this. Nothing for us to do but sit on our hands.

Unsurprisingly, Barker appears to be the only one who has done his homework on this issue. Pearson’s Girls® did not even bother to bring their laptops to this meeting, so they have no documents to reference for this, or for any other agenda item at the meeting. Pearson, who has his laptop, doesn’t squint at it at all. They sit on their hands and look at Barker, while Barker reads and discusses questions he has marked up and annotated on his printed copy of the proposed code.

Ironically, the Township’s Administrative code has not been updated for many years, but the expansion of the Board of Supervisors makes these changes to it quite a bit more of a necessity. And Pearson, who along with his Upper Providence First Worst PAC, drove the expansion of the Board. Now that he has satisfied his goals towards increasing his own personal his power, he apparently has no interest in dealing with the ramifications of the very initiative he championed.

For all of the Democrats, it’s like this whole issue affects someone else.

And sitting in the audience, it was abundantly clear that none of them had read the document.

I get it. Some of this township stuff is pretty dry. I understand that to the average layperson, development plans, engineering, sewer, fire and emergency services, etc. can be pretty dry stuff.

So I’m left wondering: Why in the world did these folks campaign for these jobs?

These Democrats wanted these jobs so badly they walked miles, knocked on hundreds of doors, talked to hundreds of people, (well, Higgins walked miles, knocked doors and talked to voters; Calci accompanied her a couple of times. And Pearson only hung out back at the Fitz, to “hold down the fort”). They also spent thousands of dollars and told countless lies in order to get these jobs. And now that they have these jobs, it truly seems like they have no idea what they are supposed to be doing, and they show little interest in figuring it out.

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I have no responsibility here whatsoever.

It’s like they came in with a little personal to do list and if the mundane business of actually, you know, governing the Township comes up, they leave the heavy lifting on that to Barker and Vagnozzi.

To be clear, it doesn’t matter whether they are interested in a particular subject or not, or whether they can politicize it, or whether it’s on their list of particular hobby horses: they are responsible for all of this stuff, and the least they could do is make an effort to appear interested and informed. Thus far, only Higgins has shown sporadic flashes of this type of engagement.

I understand Pearson’s interest in being a Supervisor, even though I think he’s the worst one we’ve ever had. Pearson came in with an agenda and made promises to his cronies. He has yet to deliver on his sponsor’s agenda, and his success in delivering his own agenda has thus far been mixed at best.

But Higgins and Calci I just don’t understand. I find I am constantly asking myself why anyone would do all that work to win an election, and then sit up on a dias just to be a “Yes Girl” to Pearson’s Agenda of Petty Revenge and Favor Granting. Why would anyone sign up to take responsibility for Pearson’s embarassing and ham-handed political manuevering?

It just never ceases to boggle my mind.

Plan ahead

Township Planner Geoff Grace notes that a meeting was held to form a subcommittee of the Planning Commission to look at the Comprehensive Plan. I attended this meeting and submitted a letter of interest in participating in this subcommittee. The development of the Comprehensive Plan update will be a 12 to 18 month process with probably monthly, hour-long meetings. Interested residents should email Geoff Grace at ggrace@uprov-montco.org with a letter of intent and/or a resume, but do it soon.

Just Making a Living

Laurie Higgins mentions that she attended a County program called “Farmer to Brewer” at the property known as Two Particular Acres. Higgins says that it was a good meeting for farmers to meet up with potential buyers so that they can actually “make a living” farming.

hobby farm

Regular readers may recall that Two Particular Acres was the subject of a bit of controversy earlier in the year, as it was the owner of this property who was seeking, and won, a zoning variance to put a cellphone tower on his property. His property is zoned residential and cell towers represent a variance from existing zoning law. Recall also that the previous Board, in concert with the Township’s existing zoning and the wishes of several surrounding communities, sent the Township solicitor to oppose this zoning change.

Recall as well that one of the first actions of the new board this year was to reverse the previous Board’s decision to oppose this action, after which, the cell tower variance was approved.

For the uninitiated, cell tower leases are a great deal for the landowner. Like billboards, owners incur virtually no expense and basically just collect rent. I have no idea how much this cell tower lease was worth, but according to this website, top tier providers, like Verizon, are paying up to $156,000 per year.

An income stream like that would sure take the pressure off having to rely on growing barley and selling it to local brewers, to “make a living,” right?

Speaking of not having to rely on the income from one’s farm to “make a living,” in addition to the Foleys, who own the property, Higgins made a point of mentioning that the Duhovises were also in attendance.

Other Board Business

  • During citizen comments, resident Chris McQuaid is concerned about a Limerick proposal to put a Restaurant Depot at the Corner of Buckwalter and Township Line Roads and he is looking for help from the Township. As the project in question is in Limerick, Pearson recommends that Mr. McQuaid attend the Limerick Planning Commission meeting, but that the Board will reach out to Limerick Township.
  • Ashenfelter Road Bridge is not urgent; the repair is recommended to be reviewed in context of the 2019 capital budget. The Board tables this recommendation indefinitely.
  • The Board approves a restrictive covenant for an in-laws quarters at 137 Buckwalter Road
  • The Township authorizes the Township Manager to sign a contract with PennDOT for completing improvements with a Green-Light-Go grant award of $232,000 Township Line Road and Linfield Trappe Road. Barker notes that the Township has already spent $125,000 on this intersection, and, addressing resident Mr. McQuaid and his concerns about the Restaurant Depot, notes that Upper Providence has not had much success in the past with cooperation from Limerick. It is noted that there is other money escrowed for this project, contributed by a developer, and is currently the subject of litigation.
  • The Board discusses a timeline for beginning Budget discussions. The goal is to act on the preliminary budget by November 5, with the final budget by December 3. Big discussion items will be capital items related to Fire and EMS expenditures.
  • The Township Police Department will be partnering with Lowes at a public safety event on October 20 from 11 am to 3pm

UPT Board Meeting Notes 9/20/18 Episode 15: UPT Joint Meeting with Trappe Borough Council

It wasn’t widely publicized, but the Board met twice during the week of 9/17: the regular Board meeting of Monday, 9/17 and a joint meeting with Trappe Borough Council on 9/20. In fact, the only mention of the 9/20 Joint Meeting was as a housekeeping item at the end of the 9/4 meeting when the Board was asked to come up with some dates for this meeting.

While I have no doubt that this meeting was properly advertised, I found no notice posted on the Township’s Facebook page or on the News section of the Township’s website. An agenda was posted on the Township’s “Meetings and Agendas” page on September 19. It was, however, a public meeting held at the Trappe Borough hall and I attended that one in person. There is no video available for this meeting.

The primary purpose of this meeting was to discuss the regionalization of Fire and Emergency Services between Upper Providence Township and Trappe Borough.

Upper Providence and all of our neighboring municipalities are each supporting domiciled volunteer fire companies monetarily. However, Upper Providence funds three additional first-due fire companies (see HERE for details on fire funding in Upper Providence Township). The township has one domiciled fire company, the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company, which covers approximately 60% of the Township. The other 40% is covered by three other companies, as illustrated by this coverage map, below.

Screenshot_2017-05-02-10-06-58-1 (1)

Trappe Borough Council was represented by Nevin Scholl, Scott Martin, Kathy Johnson, Brett Yeagley, Pat Webster, Phil Ronca and Stewart Strauss. Also in attendance for Trappe was Borough Manager Tamara Twardowski and Solicitor Dave Onorato, who also chaired the meeting.

Upper Providence was represented by the full Board: John Pearson, Helene Calci, Al Vagnozzi, Laurie Higgins and Phil Barker. Also in attendance for Upper Providence were Solicitor Joe Bresnan, Manager Tim Tieperman and Assistant Manager Bryan Bortnichak.

Agenda is below:

Agenda

John Pearson sets the Tone

Onorato began the meeting by going around the dais and asking each member to introduce themselves and briefly state what it is they hoped to get out of this meeting. John Pearson was the first elected official to speak.

Pearson stated his reason for being there was to facilitate the creation of one regional Fire and EMS service company.

This statement represents a vastly different direction than was envisioned in the “Draft” documents revealed in the RTK.

Perhaps it will come as a surprise to some readers, but Pearson has been touting regionalization of our FEMS for quite some time. As readers may recall, Pearson served with me until December 2015, and during all that time, he demonstrated little patience or support for the BRVFC, and any problems the Township had working with them were usually answered by Pearson with a dismissive suggestion that we needed to regionalize this service. He had little interest in actually doing any of the heavy lifting to accomplish this, or solve any of the problems; it was more like he thought of regionalization as a way to relieve the Township of some of this responsibility.  I always assumed Pearson did not want to be bothered with FEMS and indeed, his relatively new, documented coziness with the BRVFC is something that only developed after his defeat in the 2015 election and his subsequent efforts with Upper Providence First to expand the Board.

As they say, politics makes strange bedfellows, and now that he has accomplished his objective of getting elected, there seems to be little reason for continuing to stick his neck out for the BRVFC.  The surprise here is not that this alliance appears to be falling apart; the surprise is that it existed in the first place and lasted as long as it did.

I can only imagine the reaction to this change in direction.

Patrick Spongebob Squarepants What Thats Insane

As they went around the dais, it was clear that all representatives from both municipalities were on board with this idea.

It should be noted that although this regionalized approach to Fire and EMS Services is on the UPT Board’s milestones, approved at the 4/16 meeting, regionalization was not scheduled until “Phase 3,” which was not anticipated to be addressed for another 3 to 5 years. In my opinion, it is smarter to look at regionalization sooner rather than later, and I was pleased to not only see the UPT Board taking this step, but to see them acting unanimously on matters of public safety for a change.

For what it’s worth, regionalization discussions with Trappe, Royersford and Collegeville had already started to take place under my leadership in the summer of 2017, given that a regional approach, especially for Upper Providence, who supports four, first-due fire companies, is the only logical long-term solution for the challenges in the delivery of public safety. The growing tension is in efficiently and effectively providing Fire and EMS services with rapidly dwindling volunteerism and while not breaking the bank. Regionalization is the best solution for tackling these objectives.

Discussion of the Problems

Scholl outlined some of the financial and infrastructure problems that Trappe Borough is facing with regards to the Trappe Volunteer Fire Company, to wit: Trappe VFC is operating out of 100-year-old building and their ladder truck was purchased circa 2000. And unsurprisingly, like every other volunteer fire company across Pennsylvania, they are experiencing a decline in volunteerism.

At this, Pearson asks Trappe VFC Chief Brian Long, who was in the audience, how many volunteer there are at Trappe. Long gives a refreshingly honest answer: they pull from about 15 to 20 regular volunteers.

Figure 3 Population density and station proposal
Chart from 2014 FPA FEMS Study commissioned by Upper Providence Township

Vagnozzi notes that Upper Providence has experienced significant growth in population in the center of the Township in the last 20 years. These are the areas that were traditionally farmland prior to the development boom. He also notes that because there is no centrally located firehouse in the township, it is this area that has experienced the most significant fire losses in recent years. When the Oaks and Mont Clare fire compaies were established over 100 years ago, they were built where the population centers were at that time. He states that you have to build a firehouse where the volunteers are and, referring to a map (to which the public was not privy) notes that many of the Trappe Volunteers live either within Upper Providence’s boundaries, or in close proximity to the proposed new firehouse location at 113 and Hopwood.

Vagnozzi also states that the Fire and EMS divisions of Trappe VFC must separate their financial statements; fire and ambulance must each create separate P & L statements and balance sheets. Currently Trappe VFC’s financials are blended and in order to move forward there can be no commingling of funds; the municipalities must have a definite idea of the profit and loss of each organization.

There is enthusiastic agreement around the dais to this suggestion.

Because no meeting of the Upper Providence Township Supervisors is complete without taking a detour for a lesson in Township Supervisor 101, Calci takes this opportunity to ask Trappe Borough Council how Trappe Ambulance gets their money.

facepalm
Oy vey.

Uhhhhh…wut?

Why doesn’t she already know this????

I realize I’ve been pretty brutal on the Upper Providence Board for what I view as their continuing refusal to come prepared to a Board meetings, but this question not only betrays a willful ignorance, but glaring irresponsibility to her duties as a Township Supervisor. How could Helene Calci have possibly cast an informed vote on 4/16/18 deciding how EMS services are delivered in the Township if she still doesn’t have a basic understanding of how the ambulance companies are funded?

Calci Prepared Notes
Reading her Pearson-approved signing statement on 4/16/18

Wasn’t that the crux of the Democrats’ argument in favor of the lame medic responder unit? That putting an ambulance in Upper Providence would have a negative financial impact on the companies currently servicing the Township?

Wasn’t Calci the a member of the Board’s subcommittee tasked with studying this issue for the first three months of the year?

Finally, before casting her vote on the ambulance, wasn’t it Calci who read the following prepared (and vetted) statement into the record:

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.

Look, I understand asking questions at a meeting in order to get clarity or better understand an issue. But upon review of the meetings leading up to and including the Board’s vote on the Township’s Fire and EMS milestones on April 16, Helene Calci did not ask a single question about how the ambulance companies were funded.

Yet she cast her vote on this issue based solely on ambulance financing, a concept of which she clearly does not have a thorough understanding.

Apparently, Trappe Borough Council has no time to provide this week’s lesson and the meeting moves right along.

Image result for i don't have time for this gif

Scholl insists that Ambulance and Fire should continue to solicit subscriptions/donations after the merge.

Barker points out that there will be a tax impact to both municipalities if/when they decide to move forward to 24/7 paid crews. And the implementation of a tax could impact the companies’ ability to solicit donations.

Vagnozzi says that the new firehouse will require changes to be made in first due responses.

How will this be managed by the municipalities?

Council and Board discussed three primary options for managing the intermunicipal cooperation. The options are summed up below, in order of municipal control:

  1. Trappe Borough and Upper Providence Township fund the new building; Trappe VFC relocates to the new building in Upper Providence and shares the space with Upper Providence’s paid staff. Black Rock Fire Company would continue to operate out of the Oaks Station. All companies operate independently.
  2. Each home municipality adopts a new ordinance that operates under on entity under control of Upper Providence Township. Black Rock Fire Company merges into the Trappe VFC/Township organization.
  3. Create a legal entity called a “Cooperation of Governments” or “COG” so that both the Borough and the Township have control and provide direction for the new regional fire company.

A general discussion ensued, with option 1 being almost immediately dismissed as lacking in vision. Vagnozzi stated it was little more than picking up Trappe VFC and moving it to Upper Providence Township.

Options 2 and 3 with regard to the level of municipal control, as well as the fire command structure, were discussed at length. A flavor of that discussion follows:

As an example of a COG, Scholl cited the Collegeville-Trappe Public Works and Water Company.

Vagnozzi urged those present not to overcomplicate this and Webster responded by asking him to keep an open mind on the COG. She said that her vision for this option would be to provide high level oversight. As elected officials, they have the right and the responsibility to demand accountability as to how taxpayer dollars are being used. Ronca proposed that with a reliable stream of income, these organizations could operate differently. Johnson noted that the Fire and EMS guys just want to fight fires and respond to emergencies. If the municipalities are providing resources, then they should also provide oversight. Barker stated that the organization would be regulated through joint meetings with a set of standards, and Pearson noted that the Upper Providence Recreation Committee grew out of an existing COG.

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Vagnozzi countered the COG discussion by pointing out that the paid staff, which will also service Trappe Borough through the new regional organization, are employees of Upper Providence. His vision is to decide on a capital contribution from Trappe to offset the cost of the new building and determine an annual operational contribution as well. Upper Providence will unavoidably be absorbing most of the costs of this proposal.

A need to involve the volunteer fire companies was discussed, and Barker suggested perhaps a return to the old FEMS committee if there is one company.

Scholl noted that if the companies do not blend, there could simply be separate cost centers for Trappe VFC, BRVFC and the Township staff.

Barker notes that this meeting represents a change in course for the Township’s previous direction with BRVFC.

Bresnan states that currently the volunteer organizations are completely independent from the municipalities except for workers’ compensation insurance. Bortnichak adds that the volunteer entities can still remain independent and Bresnan says the municipalities can provide oversight of all organizations, and if they are unsatisfied with how they are operating, the municipalities can withhold funding.

Calci wants to know if the Fire Chief will have control over the entire organization, and Bortnichak, who is apparently still operating from those “Draft” documents that supposedly “nothing has been done with,” instead of the Township’s Chapter 85, which designates “Chief,” says that the Director of FEMS would write and enforce the policies with Onorato adding that each company would continue to operate independently, a united fire company with two different command structures. Barker says that the municipalities need to have some control.

Conclusion

Unite the clans

While nothing was decided on the ultimate structure of the regional organization, in my opinion Upper Providence does not improve their position in keeping three separate fire companies, each with their own command structure. The whole point of regionalization is to combine resources and gain economies of scale; maintaining three different companies (Trappe VFC, BRVFC and Upper Providence Township), with three different command structures, simply continues the status quo from the Township’s perspective. The Township gains nothing unless a true regionalized solution is adopted, under a single command structure.

And, as was demonstrated earlier this year, having the Township’s paid Chief of FEMS (or Director of FEMS, or whatever it is they are calling Overholt’s old position this week) enforce Township policy is ineffective at best, especially if the politicians are involved. The regional solution needs to be set up like the police department, with one chief empowered to enforce policy and a command structure under him for day-to-day operations and the municipalities providing high level oversight and budgetary approval.

It also has not been decided if BRVFC will be part of the new regionalized company, and if so, if it will continue to operate out of Oaks.

thumbsup

Board and Council members agreed to get feedback from their respective fire companies and reconvene for another meeting. They also decided to create a subcommittee consisting of two elected officials from each municipality, the Managers and the solicitors. They also agreed to engage an attorney specializing in mergers and regionalization of Fire Companies.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 9/4/18 Episode 13, Part 2: Puppet Show

Welcome to part 2 of the September 4 Board of Supervisors Meeting held at the Oaks Firehouse on Greentree Road.

I’d start off this post with a copy and paste of a fluffy little anecdote from Chicken Soup for the Soul, but your time is valuable and I won’t waste it with a frivolous ego indulgence.

As mentioned in the previous post, we’re taking things out of order, so this second post is actually covering the first hour and a half of the meeting.

Bear with us for a moment during John Pearson’s interminable paper shuffling, while he gets his bearings to run this meeting. It seems like it’s always a surprise to him to find himself in charge.

We’ll pick things up right after Pearson finishes butchering the names of the Community Day sponsors.

Siren Song

During public comment, a number of neighbors from the Greentree neighborhood approach the Board to ask their assistance in getting BRVFC to turn off the outside siren. The intent of the neighbors to address this issue was telegraphed via the flyer below, which was also posted on NextDoor Oaks.

fire siren meeting notice
Flyers distributed in the Greentree Neighborhood

The first resident is David Lauser, who states that he wrote a letter to each of the Board members back on June 21 to asking to evaluate the necessity to the fire siren and eliminate it if possible. Lauser does not reiterate his points for the Board, but instead asks them for a response to his letter, since many of them have not responded.

Pearson answers that they received a letter from the BRVFC Chief that they are looking to silence it between 9pm in the evening and 6am in the morning.

Lauser asks if there is any justification for not eliminating it completely.

And because, up to this point, BRVFC policy is largely indistinguishable from Township policy, and because he hasn’t bothered to follow up on this issue independently, Pearson defers to BRVFC President Joe LoCasale to answer this question. LoCasale states that BRVFC has already reduced the number of cycles from 12 to 6; and that they have tried a number of different ways of alerting their members; he claims that the technology they are using is not 100% reliable and that the siren is the most reliable way to notify members of an emergency call.

Vagnozzi disagrees.

“I’m of the opinion that the technology does exist, that the need for this siren has passed. Many fire companies have turned it off. It’s beyond me how you can say that the siren is the most reliable way to summon firefighter to the firehouse for a fire. I’ve asked [BRVFC] about this [turning off the siren] and was basically told ‘It’s not happening,’ I’ve asked the leadership here and was told ‘It’s not going to happen.’ The folks here, they live right here, they are waking up during the night, [addressing Lauser] you, 26 years, many others who I can see are here in the audience. They live it every day. And the technology works, so I don’t know how you can now advocate to keep the siren running when most other fire companies have turned off—not all, but most—and I just have to come down on the side of the residents who live in very close proximity to this building, that you should turn it off.”

Calci asks Vagnozzi, “So what are the technologies that we don’t have that other places do have? Do you know Al?”

“We have the same technologies that every other fire company in Montgomery County has.”

“We currently have that?” Calci can’t believe it.

“We have the same technology that every fire company in Montgomery County has. We probably have the most advanced systems to notify our firefighters that there’s a fire. The siren is an emotional issue. It’s an emotional issue for the firefighters, and as a life member of a fire company, I can say it: It’s just emotional. These people live it every day. They are being woken up in the morning, in the middle of the night, can’t go back to sleep. I live on the other side of Wegman’s, and I can hear the siren. So, the technology exists, again, the minute emotion walks into the room, the ability to reason walks out of the room. I think we need the reason, and turn the siren off.”

In what is perhaps the most predictable statement of the year, Pearson then stammers through his 100% unquestioned support of LoCasale’s earlier statement on the necessity of the siren and says that their offer of shutting off from 9pm at night to 6am in the morning is “very accommodating.” Pearson then goes on to say:

“I think it’s bothersome, uhhhh…in the afternoons, of course, ummm… but I don’t think it’s waking anybody up, it’s not disturbing anybody’s sleep, unless, of course, they’re doing uhhhh…uhhhhh…a third shift type of a thing. Ummm…I, I have to go with ehhhh, with what, what ehhh, Black Rock is suggesting and ehhh that’s the direction on which I’m leaning on this thing. I don’t think we’re gonna take a vote on this thing this evening, I think it’s up to the, I’m not, I’m not really sure who’s responsibility it is.”

Vagnozzi interrupts and says, “We can’t take a vote; it’s not our siren.”

Pearson, “Well that’s what I’m getting at, wondering who’s responsibility it is, and I think that they’ve been very, very nice about doing this…but, Ma’am? Please?”

He then recognizes another resident, Heather Bitzer, for public comment.

She begins reading prepared remarks by reminding the Board that there are many ways of serving their community, and that many of the neighbors do just that as doctors, nurses, 911 dispatchers, police officers, etc. A lot of these folks work odd hours. She acknowledges that, yes, many of the folks knew the fire house was there when they moved in, and many of them have been there a decade or more. It then becomes apparent that Heather Bitzer has done her homework:

“So what has changed? Recently it has come to our attention that the use of the house siren, which we always assumed was a required piece of equipment widely used by all firehouses, is actually not mandated by any governing body or a recognized standard at all. Instead, it is a preference, based mostly on tradition, whose optional usage varies from house to house.

With that in mind, your neighbors ask the leadership of Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company that they consider to continue to best serve the needs of its volunteers and the community by modernizing and eliminating the use of the house siren. We ask you to consider your well respected and highly trained peers. We ask you to recognize the measurable, repeatable, fact-based evidence on record of the absolute excellence of the following surrounding companies who no longer use a house siren: Lower Providence, at both buildings, Royersford, Perkiomen Valley, Phoenixville, Limerick, Spring City Liberty, Norristown and Norriton, Trappe, who limits their usage to day time hours between 8am and 8pm, and Collegeville Borough, who is currently out of service with their siren due to construction, but when it’s operational, they limit their siren to daytime hours between 7am and 10pm.

These outstanding companies are the same as Black Rock; held to the same local, state and federal standards for calls, response time and redundant communication systems that are needed for backup. They serve the same community base, the same terrain, the same geography, in fact some of the volunteers even come from the same family, and arrive on scene to back up the Black Rock Fire Company at the same calls. To say that Black Rock cannot, or should not eliminate or amend its siren usage drastically is to say that these facts do not exist.”

After a brief meeting derailment regarding the spotted lanternfly, Vagnozzi circles back to the siren, noting that the Township cannot mandate what BRVFC does with their siren. Vagnozzi thinks they can do better than silencing it between 9pm and 6am and asks if BRVFC would consider silencing it between 8pm and 8am. It is unclear as to whether Vagnozzi gets any agreement on that. Since the siren went off at 6:50 am over the past weekend, my guess is no.

Siren
The most reliable technology

As usual, when the policy she’s supporting seems to fly in the face of logic, Calci seems to think this issue needs further study and, once again, asks what kind of technology the other fire stations are using. And once again, Vagnozzi says, “It’s the same.”

Barker adds, “I understand that Collegeville and Trappe only use their sirens during those times because they have a lot of college students that do not necessarily have that technology available to them.”

The next resident, Laura McAtee comes up and reiterates that many of the neighbors work odd hours (nurses and policemen) and the siren wakes them up when they have to sleep during the day. She says it’s hardest on the children, saying that it is very disruptive for children not being able to sleep through the night. She points out that children playing ball in the fields below are actually covering their ears in pain because of how loud it is.

The next resident is State Trooper Watkins, who directly contradicts Pearson’s earlier statement about not the siren not waking anyone up during daytime hours. Watkins says that the siren terrifies his children and is unequivocal in his assertion that the siren does cause problem for the community and the neighborhood.

Pearson stutters his response, “Thank you for your comments, and I’m, I’m, I’m sure that they’ll try to compromise and, and meet the needs of the neighbors….uhhh uhhh along with, you know…s-s-staying with their prac, their normal practices, so….”

Pearson, of course, does not ask BRVFC to turn off or limit their siren usage because Pearson is completely unaccustomed to making any accountability demands of this organization.

As residents approached the dais about the siren, it became increasingly obvious that the only opinions that Pearson had sought regarding the siren are those of BRVFC, because many of these residents are having issues with the siren and are indeed folks who keep odd hours: a nurse, a state policeman, people with young children and babies. Pearson hasn’t talked to any of the people who are asking for his help in negotiating for the quiet enjoyment of their homes.

On this issue, it is abundantly clear Pearson is only there to do the bidding of the fire company and his role is to sell the voting public on what BRVFC has offered in the way of “compromise” on this issue.

Just like the Cellco Cell Tower issue a few months ago, Pearson is not going to ask his political cronies to compromise their interests for the benefit of the residents of Upper Providence.

Twilight Zone

The Board heard a pre-development proposal from Pulte Homes for a zoning map amendment for 24 acres along Ridge Pike across the street from Target. Land use attorney Joe Kuhls states that all they are asking for is for the Township to accept the application. The proposal is to change the zoning from NCC Neighborhood Convenience, which is commercial zoning, to R3 zoning, which is residential zoning and allowing for approximately three units per acre. This proposal would most likely yield a townhouse development of approximately 96 units.

skip to the end

Vagnozzi, who is already cranky, wants to cut through most of the presentation.

Barker asks what exactly this application is, since his paperwork indicates that it is a zoning text amendment and not a zoning map change, as Kuhls originally said. Kuhls states it is a map amendment.

Township Planner Geoff Grace steps in and note that the applicant has not actually submitted an application because they wanted to take the Board’s temperature prior to submitting the application, a process that was previously handled in staff meetings.

The Developer’s planner begins by explaining that he believes that the NCC zoning is more for infill and that this parcel is the largest NCC parcel in the Township. Also, that demand for commercial development is very soft. In my opinion, this soft demand for commercial space is the primary reason for the request for the zoning change.

We now interrupt this meeting for an important word about zoning map changes: Near the end of my term in 2017, I met with the Township Planner and the Assistant Manager and we went over the remaining undeveloped parcels in the Township, as we were receiving many of these types of rezoning requests; either to change a commercial space to dense residential or to increase the density of an existing residential parcel. I told them that I would be opposed to all zoning change applications until we had some idea of how the Parkhouse parcel was going to develop.

Original Plan was to develop
Just changed their mind after spending $40 million.

These proposed zoning changes add residents to our township and those new residents will all require municipal services and infrastructure to support them. As this Pulte presentation demonstrates, a landowner or developer can simply approach the Board and ask that the zoning for the parcel be changed. It is entirely at the Board’s discretion whether this request gets granted.

At this time, the future of Upper Providence is punctuated with a giant, 220 acre question mark in the form of the land surrounding Parkhouse. When Montgomery County sold this open space in 2014, it threw our entire comprehensive plan into disarray, as these 220 acres were never contemplated to be anything other than Open Space. Though it is still zoned Open Space, with an institutional overlay, it can still, by rights, be used for an assisted living or another residential continuing care facility, and the development under the institutional zoning can be quite dense.

It should also be noted that as part of a cleanup of our zoning ordinances, in the summer of 2013, the Township changed the zoning on all publicly owned parcels to Open Space. The underlying zoning on the Parkhouse parcel was changed from R1 residential (one unit per acre) to Open Space. This happened immediately prior to the County announcing the parcel was for sale. And it should further be noted that the Montgomery County Commissioners fought the Township on the zoning change.

1800242_10201367935896194_1966877215_n
Your humble blogress (with fellow protestor, Janice Kearney) at a Save Parkhouse rally, January 2014

Without rehashing the entire tragic story of how those County Commissioners—Josh Shapiro, Bruce Castor, and Leslie Richards—and some of their cronies—-betrayed this community and the public trust by selling this Open Space, I have always believed that the sale of Parkhouse was all about the land from the beginning. Not knowing what the politically-connected owners of Parkhouse have planned for that space is a thought that keeps me awake at night. And knowing who is now in charge of the decision on this certainly doesn’t make me sleep any better. This Board has not exactly inspired confidence with their crony-benefitting decision making process thus far, and while there haven’t been many land development proposals before the Board this year, those land use decisions that have been heard have been utterly politicized by the Democrats.

Though great pains were taken to make it look like one, the Upper Providence First effort to expand the Board of Supervisors from three to five members was never a grass roots effort, nor was it intended to give residents more of a voice in their community, as King Pearson has so aptly demonstrated this year. Instead, that effort was designed to dilute the voices of the sitting Board members, should the wrong members get elected. It’s fairly obvious in both Democrat and Republican political circles in Upper Providence that Pearson’s buddy, fellow Upper Providence First member, and former “Republican” candidate for Township Supervisor, Bill Kasper, was supposed to be sitting where Laurie Higgins is now, with Kevin Holohan proving he was far to mercenary for any side to fully embrace.

pulling the strings

Nor did the Upper Providence First group simply dissolve once the five-member board was passed, either. These folks still meet for Quizzo at the Fitz, sip Chardonnay at “outstanding” “Make Upper Providence Great Again” parties and gleefully post about it all over Facebook. These are the folks who backed Pearson (and then his Girls® when Kasper lost the primary, because Higgins and Calci were deemed –and have proven to be–controllable by Pearson) and they continue to pull his strings to this day. Residents who are worried about the future of that 220 acres surrounding Parkhouse should perhaps be concerned about just who it is that is ultimately holding Pearson’s strings, because it strains credibility that those puppet masters expended all of that effort to put Pearson in power simply to provide Pearson with an opportunity for his own petty personal score settling. The puppet masters have an agenda of their own and that day of reckoning is coming.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled meeting.

Barker notes that there really aren’t any residential developments with frontage on Ridge Pike and asks if it would be possible to maintain the commercial frontage on Ridge and keep the residential to the rear of the property. The developer explains the challenges of the wetlands in the property and says the frontage is only about 800 feet and reiterates the problems stemming from the soft commercial market. He claims any commercial pad site put out there would just “flounder.” Barker also notes that there have been bad experiences with townhouse developments, parking and storm water management elsewhere in the Township, some of which were with Pulte.

Pearson tells the developer to start the process.

Not so fast; Higgins has something to say: “Your proposal said there were no negative impacts to the Township, but a couple of things I’d like to know is, what is the benefit to the Township? How is this going to actually add value to the Township? Also, I don’t think that the layout and the design of the homes is very creative, imaginative, new and different; they look like cookie cutter townhomes that you see everywhere and I’d like to see something different than the same old, same old.”

PultePlan

When the attorney for the developer states that they will walk the Board through the process and define the impacts, Higgins stops him and says, “Well again, what I’m looking for is an added benefit to the Township, not necessarily what the impact is. I understand what the impact is, I read your thing, it’s less impact in townhomes in terms of traffic, etc., but I’m looking for the good stuff. What’s the good stuff? What’s the benefit to the Township that’s going to bring value to the Township in general? And I’d like to see more thoughtfulness and creativity and inventiveness and vision regarding the whole development in terms of layout, in terms of individual design of the townhomes. I don’t currently see any amenities in this particular sketch plan right now, and there’s no secondary access as you have it right now. So those are the four things that concern me. But I’m, in general, not opposed.”

Credit where credit is due: I have to give Laurie Higgins props for these questions. This is exactly what she is supposed to be doing. I don’t necessarily agree with all of her comments, but she clearly did her homework on this development.

Half a million dollar hookup

Township Engineer Bill Dingman presents a proposal for a public sewer extension for 10 homes on Old State Road, between Yeager and Hafner Roads. This extension will cost approximately $440,000; approximately $76,000 would be assessed to the individual properties, with the balance to be funded through the Township’s sewer fund. Construction would be in late 2019 if the Board decides to move forward.

Vagnozzi asks if the residents are required to hook up and Dingman says no. Vagnozzi wants to know if they could put a time limit on that and Dingman responds that the planning module can be modified to include that.

sewer money

Still cranky, Vagnozzi says if it’s going to cost the Township a half a million dollars to run sewer to ten homes, then the Township needs to re-evaluate making hook-ups optional. “We should at least require them to hook up within a certain period of time, because it’s the Township’s money; it’s everyone in the audience’s money.”

In response to a question from Calci, Dingman estimates it would cost a resident approximately $20,000 in assessment, tapping fees, and plumbing to hook up to the sewer.

Three residents have indicated an interest in hooking up so far and Barker suggests a communication be sent to the affected residents outlining the plan and the potential costs to the residents for hookup.

Calci asks what the incentive would be for anyone to hook up if they are not required and Dingman says that it is unusual for a township not to require hookup.

Barker suggests that the Board hold a meeting with the affected residents, much like they did with the Borough Line, Lewis Road sewer job.

The sewer issue is eventually tabled for further discussion.

Play Money

The Board voted to engage Field Goals US to conduct a recreation needs study for the Township. This survey will cost up to $57,690 and is a direct result of the Board’s hasty decision to shut down the Township’s fitness center at Anderson Farm Park.

Recall that the Board had no idea what they wanted to do instead of the fitness center, so now they will be spending up to $57,690 of your tax dollars to figure that out.

Other Board Business

  • The Board watched a presentation from the Chester County Planning Commission regarding Phoenixville Region Multi-Modal Transportation study.
  • The Board approved the amended MS4 storm water plan.
  • Pearson directed the Township Manager to set an adoption date for the revised administrative code.
  • The Board voted to spend $1,144.14 to acquire a sanitary sewer easement at 713 Second Ave.
  • The Board agreed to waive SEI’s special events fee of $75.
  • The Board approved a settlement stipulation for an assessment appeal of a property in the Township. The re-assessment was driven by the School district, who will collect $144,000 on the settlement. By contrast, the Township will receive an additional $760 for 2016 and 2017.
  • The Solicitor asks the Board to approve a settlement on a personnel matter, which they end up tabling. The matter was already discussed in executive session, but Pearson never turns down an opportunity to have a legitimate executive session.
  • Township Planner Geoff Grace notes that the proposed apartment development behind Wegmans will be on the Planning Commission agenda for September 10. Grace notes there is quite a lot of interest in this development and that the developer has submitted revised plans. Pearson asks if the Planning Commission will be meeting at the Oaks Firehouse, and Grace confirms that they will. “That’s good,” says the guy who didn’t see a need for a bigger municipal meeting hall, “so they will have enough room in the audience for them.”

And now you know the rest of the story.

The next regularly scheduled Board meeting will be held, once again, at the Oaks Fire Hall on September 17 at 7pm.

The last fifteen minutes of this meeting are the subject of another post, which can be found HERE.

What time does quizzo start
What time does Quizzo start?

UPT Board Meeting Notes 9/4/18 Episode 13 Part 1: Between a Black Rock and a Hard Place

It’s been a month since the Board last met, having cancelled their second meeting of August. This meeting is at the Oaks Firehouse, and appropriately enough, starts and ends with the discussion of FEMS. We’re going to take things a bit out of order and start at the end. There is a lot to cover here, and I am going to split this meeting up into two posts, simply because the last fifteen minutes deserve especially close scrutiny.

This first post will examine those last fifteen minutes, which are a direct result—according to John Pearson himself—of the RTK I filed in June, received in July and published in August (see HERE for details of RTK).

We pick up the meeting at 1:32.

Be Careful what you ask for

When we last left our Board of Supervisors, Board Chairman John Pearson issued an assignment for all of the Supervisors to come up with comments for the end of the meeting. Regular readers may recall that your humble Blogress predicted that Pearson would probably regret this request.

Pearson asks for Supervisor’s comments and when Vagnozzi says, “Yes, I have a couple comments,” the three democrats whip their heads to the left to look at Vagnozzi.

Just inches from a clean getaway.

Vagnozzi:

“During the course of the first eight months of this year, our Township has worked to resolve a number of public safety concerns as it relates to fire and emergency services. I’ve been in favor of some of the changes, however, I’ve been opposed to others. During the prior several years, Upper Providence Township made significant improvements to the delivery of fire services with the deployment of paid fire fighters during the daytime hours and were working toward developing a combination fire company with paid and volunteer staff. However, things are taking place in this community that some of the Supervisors are not aware of. As a result of a Right to Know request, actually by former Supervisor Lisa Mossie, hundreds of documents and attachments were released to the public. We, as Supervisors, were copied on them and I’ve reviewed the Right to Know request and I want to say that a number of things have happened that I am not and was not aware of, with planning that has been ongoing and that I do not agree with. I’m going to refer to one email in the Right to Know request. This is from Black Rock Fire Company President, Joe LoCasale to Bryan Bortnichak.”

Vagnozzi then reads the following email from the RTK—dated June 1, 2018—into the record:

060118 Get Phil and Al on board

Vagnozzi points out that this email is stating, very plainly, that plans were being made without the knowledge of he and Phil Barker. He also mentions two documents, the Collaborative Agreement (050118 Collaborative Agreement) and Attachment F (041618 Attachment F), and says he had no idea what these documents were.

Collaborative Agreement

Vagnozzi holds the two documents up, noting that the Attachment F is an Integrated Fire Company Organization document dated April 11, 2018. Please note: This document predates the approval of the milestones on April 16.

Vagnozzi then reads the highlighted paragraph from the document (below), which is “an attempt to change Chapter 85” the Township’s Fire and Emergency service ordinance.

AttF Giving up control

“Now, what that means, if we agree to this, is that the Township is abdicating all control over the fire scene to the fire companies. And although our fire companies are extremely competent, we are duty bound as a Township to make sure that we have control of our fire and emergency services. That’s just like giving the Police Chief total and complete control without any of our authority. I will not, and I cannot even go in this direction. Ok, so my biggest problem is that I would have stopped this on April 11. I am one of five. And knowing that Phil Barker voted to change Act 85 last year to designate a Chief of Fire and Emergency Service, that leaves two people on this Board that will not support this. I don’t know if the other three, if you’ve read this…?

Calci quickly says, “I have not seen it,”

Vagnozzi continues:

“Because it’s my understanding—and here’s the other thing—Laurie Higgins and Helene Calci, have also not been kept completely in the loop. You’ve gotten a lot of emails—more than I have—but my point is, this cannot stand, all right? The Township must maintain control of fire and emergency services, that’s the fire department, that’s the ambulance. It’s our duty to make sure that the services are delivered properly. And we love our volunteers and we love our first responders but they need to act under our direction at all times. We appreciate their help and provide funding for them and they do a great job, but ultimately, when it comes down to it, the Township is in charge. Thank you.”

“It’s only a DRAFT!!!”

After a beat of silence, Pearson’s first immediate reaction is to distance himself from the whole thing.

“Did you insinuate something there about me knowing what was going on there?”

When Vagnozzi says yes, Pearson’s second immediate reaction, and the one he sticks to, is to take yet another step away from ownership of this policy:

“Did you…uh…look at that thing you were reading from there? Did that say ‘Draft’ on it?”

What follows is an argument between Vagnozzi and Pearson, with Pearson insisting that the document is a draft and asking if anything has been done on it and Vagnozzi saying that the hundreds of documents in the RTK show the direction the Township was headed on Fire and EMS. When Pearson finally gets acknowledgement that the document is a draft, he wants to declare case closed, “Then that’s it. Nothing has been done on it.”

When Vagnozzi says, “There are many, many other documents, hundreds of documents and emails that show quite the contrary. Look, all I’m saying is that we are all one of five…”

Pearson then becomes completely unhinged. He interrupts, angrily pointing at Vagnozzi across the dais and says, “Al, are these your words, or are they coming from Lisa?”

are these your words

Vagnozzi: “Lisa has nothing to do with this.”

Pearson: “Absolutely. You got her permission to do this?”

Vagnozzi: “I don’t need anybody’s permission, John. We received copies of this. It took me hours to figure this out.”

Then Calci says, “Figure what out, though? Nothing’s happened.” And then Pearson and Calci proceed to fall all over each other insisting that the document is a draft (it is indeed marked “draft” but we’ll explore what that may really mean below) and Calci says, “It’s a draft from last spring! Obviously, we didn’t move in this direction.” While Pearson is practically spitting, “Nothing’s happened! It’s a draft! It’s like…ehhhh…you know, nothing’s been done with it!”

Then Pearson starts yelling, “We haven’t taken any action on it yet! We haven’t gone in that direction! It’s a recommendation! It’s like…ehhh….”

Vagnozzi: “It’s a recommendation to the Board, but it hasn’t gotten to us. But it’s been seen. The emails were sent. To you.” This statement momentarily stops Pearson’s sputtering in its tracks. Vagnozzi then thanks BRVFC President Joe Locasale for suggesting that the Board involve Barker and Vagnozzi and tells the Board that the email was very revealing.

pinocchio

The only way Pearson can respond to this is with an outright lie.

“There is no intention to keep anyone on this Board out of anything.”

…a statement that cannot be answered with anything other than awkward silence. And that silence is broken by Calci stating that they have to work as a team for the Township.

Vagnozzi agrees and says that since early winter till late July, when all of the documentation came out, he has been kept in the dark. “I assure you, given my background, I am not, no longer staying in the background with delivery of public safety in the community.”

To which Calci snarkily responds, “Well as much as you want to be involved, be involved.”

Pearson, still angry, says, “You would not have been making an issue out of this unless Ms. Mossie hadn’t requested these Right to Knows.”

Vagnozzi immediately responds, “And I would have never seen it, either. Yes, I didn’t file the Right to Know, she filed it, we were all copied on it, and I spent hours going through it. Hours going through it. And found the issues.”

Barker then asks a critical question, “Who prepared the draft?” Pearson chuckles in disbelief. Pearson and Calci start repeating the question, looking around from help.

Image result for belushi animal house

“Who prepared the draft? Who prepared the draft?” Calci says, shrugging. “I don’t know.”

Vagnozzi says, “I believe the fire company did.”

Phil asks again, directing the question to staff. Bryan Bortnichak responds that they got the document from Joe LoCasale. They believe he prepared the document.

pinocchio

The next awkward silence and paper shuffling moment is broken by Pearson reiterating his earlier lie: “Again, no one is trying to hide anything from anyone on this Board.”

Vagnozzi: “An attempt was made to have us abdicate our responsibilities.” He says that the Board cannot give up direct control over what goes on in this community. Which provokes uproar as the board begins talking over each other:

Calci: “Well, I don’t think anybody is. I’m not sure how you are getting that from a draft from April that Joe LoCasale wrote and we had nothing to do with it.”

meddling

Pearson: “No! I’m not giving up any authority of this Board.”

Higgins, “So you admit it’s a draft and it’s merely an idea that was proposed. It’s not final.”

Barker: “But who prepared it?”

Vagnozzi: “The document speaks for itself.”

Pearson: “It’s already been explained! But it’s like… it’s already been explained! Joe prepared it, like, it’s a DRAFT!”

Calci: “I’m not sure what you are trying to stir up. No one’s trying to take power from…”

Vagnozzi: “My point is, we haven’t been informed, and I was reading an example…”

Pearson: “Nothing’s been done and you have a copy of it. What’s the problem with it?”

Vagnozzi: “I had to go dig for it.”

Pearson: “You didn’t dig for it. Someone else dug it for you!”

columbo
Just one more thing…

With that outburst, Pearson declares the matter closed, but Supervisor Barker has just one more thing. Barker asks for all of the copies of the meeting minutes of the Steering Committee. Tieperman states that the meeting minutes are part of the weekly update they receive from him.

Calci, in what is perhaps the most disingenuous comment I have ever heard her make, says, “So then you really didn’t have to dig, I guess, if it was available.”

Tieperman clarifies, “Phil was asking about the minutes. I’ve made a point of including all of the steering committee meeting minutes in my manager highlight reports.”

Calci: “Are you all right with that, then Phil? Digging through the minutes?”

Barker: “Yes, as long as it’s communicated…”

pinocchio

Pearson interrupts: “Absolutely! Nobody is…AGAIN!…Nobody is trying to hide anything from anybody on this Board. Nothing!”

Pearson, desperate to get out of the meeting before more damage is done, asks for any other comments then reads possible meeting dates for a joint meeting with the Trappe Borough Council before adjourning to executive session.

What did we just see?

The documents in the RTK paint a very clear picture of an FEMS agenda that clearly excluded at least two of the current Board members. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence this year, as well as an outright admission by John Pearson, that the three Democrat Board members are meeting and deliberating outside of public Board meetings. The disregard for Sunshine Laws is almost passe at this point.

There are several points here that cannot be denied:

“My own personal time”

This is not the first time that Pearson has been called on the carpet for proceeding on Fire and Emergency services on his own. Recall at the May 21 Board of Supervisors meeting (HERE), when Pearson tried to increase the membership in the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night.

great scott
If my calculations are correct, you’re going to see some serious bulls***

As was revealed in the RTK, this proposal was solely at the direction of BRVFC. The documents in the RTK reveal exactly why the Township’s Fire Chief, Josh Overholt, was being excluded from this committee. When it became clear that plans to remodel the Oaks Firehouse were already underway, Barker called him out on it.

Marty, set the flux capacitor for May, 21, 2018:

Reading from an email on his computer, Barker stated, “It’s saying here that they are finalizing the drawing of the career staff offices tomorrow….and bringing them…There’s things going on here that I wasn’t aware of until I got a copy of this email. They are moving on things that we haven’t approved and have no knowledge of, we don’t know who’s paying for this, who designed it…”

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

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

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

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

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

So here we are in September, and Pearson is still denying that he, along with BRVFC, are directing FEMS policy not only without the approval of, but without even the knowledge of the rest of the Board.

There is no other way to put it: Pearson is lying when he says the Board is being informed of FEMS policy.

Policy is being written by BRVFC at the direction of John Pearson and with the authority of John Pearson

This one speaks for itself. The Collaborative Agreement spells this out in black and white.

050118 Collaborative Agreement Scope excerpt

This document declares, via King Pearson’s unilateral authority, that BRVFC is the primary service provider for Upper Providence Township.

Regardless of whether or not this was a DRAFT proposal or a “working document,” it cannot be denied that not only did Pearson give BRVFC the authority to create this document and further, that this document was created long before the creation of Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night, it clearly spells out how fire services will move forward. If I could quote from the May 21 meeting one more time:

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

This statement is simply a restatement of of a paragraph from Attachment F, conveniently leaving out the bit about the BRVFC having command and the Township’s professionals being rolled into the BRVFC.

AttachFPearson

Why was this kept from the other members of the Board? Because it clearly was.

Almost all of the documents in the RTK predate the creation of the Steering committee.

The first meeting of Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night was held on June 6, 2018. The scope of the RTK included documents from January 1 through June 25 (the date of the RTK filing) and therefore only included minutes from three meetings.

Calci’s statement about how Barker does not need to “dig” for information since Tieperman is including Steering Committee meeting minutes in his weekly Manager’s Highlights report is ridiculous on it’s face. All of the heavy lifting on FEMS policy has been done prior to the creation of this farce of a steering committee and it is clear, that regardless of whether this “Collaborative Agreement” is a draft or not, that Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night is following the policy direction outlined in that document in implementing the milestones.

How would Barker and Vagnozzi have known otherwise?

How would Barker or Vagnozzi have known about any of this that is going on behind the scenes without a private citizen filing an RTK? As I stated in the post documenting the RTK (HERE), I filed this RTK almost as an afterthought, not really anticipating that it would reveal anything breath-taking, much less something as controversial as a proposal to abdicate Township authority on FEMS to a troubled volunteer fire company.

how will I know
How will I know what John’s keeping from me?

Doesn’t that seem to be leaving things a bit to chance?

The funny thing is that at the same time Pearson seems angry about this RTK, he’s claiming that Vagnozzi and Barker have nothing to complain about anymore since they now have the documents.

No thanks to him or his Girls®.

Tieperman communicates weekly with the Board of Supervisors. This major policy “proposal” was clearly omitted from his communiques (otherwise it would have been included in the RTK). Neither Tieperman, nor Bortnichak, has any authority whatsoever on their own to usurp Board authority and implement a major policy decision without the blessing of the Board.

It seems to me that this policy direction would have naturally been communicated by the Township Manager to the rest of the Board. Unless he was specifically directed not to.

Do Board members have to file their own RTK requests to the Township in order to be informed of what King Pearson is doing?

The RTK provides an answer as to why the BRVFC was not upset when the new Board did not restore their funding.

As I have noted often in the past, the Democrats on the Board of Supervisors ran for election on one primary issue: the previous Board’s funding cut to BRVFC. The Democrats sent two Township-wide emails hammering on this issue.

Yet, when they took office, the Democrats did not take advantage of their right to re-open the budget and restore Black Rock’s funding. I found this suspicious, especially since BRVFC Vice President (and former “Republican” candidate for Township Supervisor) Bill Kasper and his very politically acticve wife were particularly vocal about this issue on social media and were attending all of the meetings earlier this year while remaining oddly silent about the funding.

Apparently, BRVFC was playing a longer game, shooting for the whole bucket of funding rather than simply a restoration of their former share of the funding.

060618 Steering Cmty Excerpt Box Assignment

How could this have been be avoided?

There are a number of ways this ugliness could have been avoided, but first and foremost among them would have been the BRVFC’s compliance with Township safety standards and policies. As the only domiciled fire company within Upper Providence’s boundaries, it’s a foregone conclusion that had BRVFC met the Township’s standards, they would have been the Township’s primary service provider. From the Township’s Staff Prepared slides January 2018:

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

The Township is responsible for providing for the safety of the residents. It can enter into contracts with outside providers to provide those services, and when it does, the Township has not only the right, but the duty to demand that their contracted service providers operate within a set of Township-defined policies and standards, especially when those standards and policies help to ensure the safety of the public and the volunteers themselves. In return, the Township provides funding and workers’ compensation insurance.

One wouldn’t hire an electrician who ignores code. Or trust a doctor who operates outside of AMA standards. Or put their lives into the hands of a pilot who doesn’t do mandated safety checks. We can respect our volunteers for the noble and heroic work that they do while also insisting that they adhere to policy. Isn’t firefighting dangerous enough without ignoring safety standards? Other volunteer fire companies can and do operate within those policies and standards; why won’t BRVFC?

But rather than be accountable to these policies and standards, it appears that BRVFC’s leadership chose to play it politically, and put all their eggs in the John Pearson basket.

Secondly, the Board could have chosen to work, in Calci’s words, “as a team for the good of the Township,” and collaborate on FEMS policy. Instead, at least two members on the Board, possibly three, were willfully excluded from input on this policy.

Third, the Board could have simply chosen to answer my letter and address my very valid concerns for the safety of myself and my family.

It’s interesting, but simply because I was a former Supervisor, that fact does not somehow forfeit my right to have a say in the community in which I live, a fact I believe is lost on some of the Board members and their supporters. They also forget that I was a political writer long before I was an elected official, and my return to blogging is simply that: a return to what I did before. I am a taxpaying resident of this Township just like everyone else and deserve answers to my questions just like everyone else. Perhaps I bring a little more insight into these matters than most other folks simply because of my experience, but at the end of the day, these blog posts are just one person’s point of view. It’s up to the reader to determine whether what I have to say has any credibility or not.

But in my opinion, what is going on at our Township is very, very wrong.

“Just a Draft” or Unofficial Guiding Document?

The Upper Providence Democrats attempted to hang on to what’s left of their public credibility with the insistence that the Collaborative Agreement and Attachment F (integration document) were just “Drafts.” The “Project Plan,” another policy document, did not even come up at the meeting.

drFT

050118 PROJECT PLAN – UPT FIRE SERVICE Revised 5-1-

050118 Collaborative Agreement

041618 Attachment F

But the real question is, what is the nature of these documents? Are they merely “DRAFTS?” Proposals under consideration, as Pearson would have us believe?

Or are they more of a secret, unofficial and unapproved guiding set of documents legitimized solely by the grace of King Pearson? The documents in the RTK tell a different story than the one Pearson and his Girls® are telling.

The first documentation of BRVFC writing policy comes at 3/22/18, well before the April 4 Special Fire and Emergency services meeting and the April 16 meeting where the milestones were approved. According to BRVFC President LoCasale’s email below, this document, which was not included as an attachment on the email, was to be discussed at the March 29 meeting at the “Oakes” Firehouse that Helene Calci was coordinating. Attendees of this meeting were Pearson, Calci, Tieperman and Bortnichak from the Township; LoCasale, and presumably Daywalt, Kasper and Callahan for BRVFC. Since the purpose of this meeting was to discuss the “Plan,” it would seem to me that something as basic as whether the Township or the BRVFC would have control over FEMS was discussed.

It is hard to believe that BRVFC would have wasted their time writing the policies which later became the Project Plan, Attachment F and the Collaborative Agreement without at least a high level blessing from the Board members present.

032218 email intergrated fire companies

4/10/18, The “come to Jesus” email to former Fire Chief Josh Overholt contains two significant bullet points about Board direction regarding the BRVFC. These directives were never publicly stated directives by the Board of Supervisors. Note as well, the Public Works employees had all filled out applications to “join” BRVFC.

josh

4/16/18 Attachment F, which is the plan for rolling the professionals and the public works guys into BRVFC, is first communicated on the afternoon before the Board votes on the milestones.

041618 Attachment F Email

5/1/18 is the first submission of the Collaborative Agreement which will be reviewed for a 5/2 meeting.

050118 Updated staff integration email

The Project Plan document contains this interesting bit of policy, specifically outlining how the Staff intergration was going to be taking place.:

050118 Project plan pros roll into BRVFC not vice versa excerpt

Attachment F shows that BRVFC was also taking “ownership” of the new Township firehouse, AKA the “BRVFC Central Station:”

BRVFC CENTRAL STATION

5/14/18 For the first time, Joe LoCasale asks when they will be briefing the Board on this policy. They are also ready to settle the collaborative agreement and start up the new organization.

051418 May 16 meeting

5/17/18 LoCasale tells Township Staff that BRVFC will be needing another member on the Steering Committee. Given the scope of the policy so far, and the fact that BRVFC is pretty much writing their ticket before the Steering Committee is even established, this strikes me as a wholly unnecessary demand.

051718 Steering committee needs one more member

5/19/18 This email reiterates the direction of the other “Draft” documents, spelling out the integration of UPT Career staff and Public Works employees into the BRVFC with BRVFC as the lead organization.

051918 Drawings for Oaks FH email

5/21/18 Board of Supervisors meeting, in which Pearson spends most of the meeting quoting the Collaborative agreement and admitting that he has been meeting with BRVFC on his “own personal time.”

6/1/18 Once again, like a long-time mistress who keeps asking when her lover is going to leave his wife and marry her, LoCasale asks –again — when they are going to brief the Board to legitimize this policy direction. He also asks when they are going to “settle” these “Draft” documents, because without that, they are “just spinning their wheels.”

060118 Get Phil and Al on board

After the creation of the Steering Committee, the minutes from the first three meetings reveal that this group was doing anything but “spinning its wheels.” The following excerpts from the Steering Committee minutes put lie to the Democrats’claims that “nothing has been done” and that they are “not moving in this direction.”

060618 Steering Cmty Excerpt Box Assignment

060618 Steering Committee Excerpt New Station Design subcommittee

Based on this partial rehash of the RTK documents presented here, it’s obvious that BRVFC was being given free and unfettered reign on creating Township policy. The RTK reveals that almost weekly meetings between the Township and BRVFC were taking place prior to the passage of the Milestones and the creation of the Steering Committee, and of course, there were an unknown number of meetings that happened on John Pearson’s “own personal time.”

leaving it to you
Abdicating control. What could go wrong?

At no time over the course of these 10 weeks was BRVFC reeled in, or asked to change direction; indeed the RTK reveals a relentless course forward. All of this correspondence took place before the first meeting of the Steering Committee and many of the policies were being written before the Board had even voted upon the Milestones.

And once the Steering Committee began meeting, the minutes from the first three meetings clearly reveal that the policy just continued forward, with Upper Providence Township moving towards placing the responsibility for Township Fire and Emergency Services into the hands of BRVFC, without briefing the entire Board, without a vote, and without a public discussion.

BRVFC was obviously comfortable enough with how the documents mentioned in LoCasale’s June 1 email were settled that they were unconcerned about “spinning their wheels.”

At the 9/4/18 meeting, Pearson and Calci repeatedly insisted that these documents were “only drafts,” and that “nothing has been done” with them, and that they weren’t “going in that direction.” In spite of these protests from Pearson and Calci, it appears that, quite to the contrary, this policy was moving along in EXACTLY that direction without anyone daring to put a stop to it.

My theory, and your mileage may vary: These were no “Drafts.” These were policy documents, designed to be implemented as soon as possible, and only to be revealed to the rest of the Board after it became too late to turn back.

The Board is totally backing off of the this policy

Oh, let us count the ways. They are practically leaving skid marks on Greentree Road as they back away.

How many times did Pearson and Calci insist that the Collaborative Agreement was “just a draft?” Answer: Too many to count.

Judas Pearson denied the BRVFC far more than three times.

After first denying knowledge of the document, both Pearson and Calci also went so far as to say that the Collaborative Agreement was considered and rejected: they decided not to go in that direction.

backing up homer simpson GIF

Calci washed her hands of the entire document, first denying she had even seen it, then citing it as something they “had nothing to do with” that was created “all the way back in the spring.”

The Democrats couldn’t distance themselves enough from this policy or responsibility to it.

Exit Questions: The RTK documents don’t lie: This is a policy that was embraced, encouraged and contributed to by at least two members of the Board, Pearson and Calci. Yet as soon as this agenda was publicly revealed, both Pearson and Calci (and Higgins) disavowed knowledge of it, denied seeing it, insisted it was not decided upon, and that it was not the direction the Township was going.

It makes one wonder: Why was this only a policy to back away from when it became public knowledge? One could almost understand their reluctance at being called out for yet another Sunshine law violation, but they disavowed the entire policy direction and washed their hands of any initiatives outlined in the “Drafts.” If Pearson and Calci were acting in the best interests of the Township for the last eight months while this policy was being “drafted” behind the scenes, exposing this policy direction to the light of day should not have derailed it.

Why the back pedaling now, if this was such a great policy direction?

Why did they immediately distance themselves from it when it became public?

Why didn’t they champion it after months of nurturing it and encouraging it?

Why not make a public case for it, now that everyone knows about it?

What happens now?

The Board approved a set of “milestones” back on April 14; what the Board did not approve was the abdication of authority over FEMS to the BRVFC.

The Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night has been created to implement these milestones, but they are doing so in a manner that has not been communicated to either the entire Board or the Public.

Sub-committees have been formed consisting solely of Township staff and BRVFC members; no volunteers from any other fire companies (or EMS companies) have been asked to participate.

Meeting the timeline has taken precedence over the manner in which these milestones are being implemented, almost as if there is a rush to get this policy established before it can be stopped.

The Township’s FEMS are currently rudderless, having lost the Township’s Fire Chief, the eminently qualified Josh Overholt, to the silliness of the past year.

Who is minding the store now?

And where do we go from here?

We’ll be watching closely to see if the Board majority intends to continue their behind-the-scenes maneuvering, or if they are going to be true to their statements in this meeting, that the Collaborative Agreement was considered and rejected as a policy direction.

There’s much more to report from this meeting.

Part 2 of the 9/4/18 Meeting Notes is coming soon.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 7/16/18:  Episode 11 Ain’t No Sunshine

Gentle Readers, there is certainly something to be said for attending Board of Supervisors’ meetings in person, especially when the microphones are malfunctioning.   I’m not sure quite what it is that should be said, but suffice to say, there is nothing quite like being moralized to in person by the likes of John Pearson.

Sunshine Laws are something a lot of folks like to cite with regards to local government, but most people, as it will be proven tonight, don’t know what they are, how they apply or what the penalties are.  And they are plenty of ways around Sunshine Laws, particularly if no one is paying any attention.  I wrote about this issue in depth last week HERE, if you are interested.

One of the seeming benefits of expanding the Board of Supervisors from three to five members, is that it allows for much more communication between Supervisors outside of the public eye without technically violating Pennsylvania’s Open Meetings law.  The whole statute can be found here, but in a nutshell, PA’s Office of Open Records defines it thusly:

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, 65 Pa.C.S. §§ 701-716, requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting. It requires that meetings have prior notice, and that the public can attend, participate, and comment before an agency takes that official action.

File that away for a few moments while we dive into the evening’s main event:  The resumption of the Rec Center discussion.  The audience is packed with folks who angrily wish to opine on this issue, 100% brought to you by the three folks you elected last November. This one agenda item easily takes up the lion’s share of the first hour of this almost two hour meeting.

Wreck Creation II – Electric Boogaloo

Pearson announces the first agenda item, then states that he would like to make a comment on this issue first.  In an effort to head off yet another uncomfortable meeting of his own making, he picks up his yellow legal pad and begins reading from his prepared remarks:

As chairman of this board, I take full responsibility for putting the cart before the horse on this fitness center issue.  You are right.  We should have been more transparent about our decision to re-purpose the rec center building.  We should have taken the time to give you, the residents, the courtesy of letting you know our intentions.  So here are our intentions.  We intend to purchase the equipment for $11,000 and not renew our lease for $38,000.  The fitness center will remain open until we come up with a comprehensive plan to re-purpose this facility in the next 18 to 24 months.  We will do another survey to see what the majority for our residents want and we look forward to any positive input that those here tonight would like to contribute.  (flip page on yellow legal pad)  Going forward, we will make every attempt to keep you, the township residents, informed as to how we intend to move forward with a comprehensive plan including ALL our open space and recreational facilities.  I hope the flyers at the front door answered some of your questions on our intentions to re-purpose the rec center to make it a true community center for all of Upper Providence Township.  And I know we will not have answers for all of your questions, so anyone that would like to speak, I will give you the opportunity.  Please come up, keep it brief and please try not to ask any questions that have already been asked and answered in the flyer you received.

I'm SorryLet’s keep in mind that there was no “fitness center issue” until the Board created it out of thin air by unceremoniously announcing the decision to close the fitness center at the last meeting.  As a reminder, it was apparent that only three members—Pearson, Calci and Higgins—had made this decision.  (You can get caught up on that meeting HERE.)

New and improved for this week: Apparently the Board doesn’t have enough on their plates simply re-purposing the rec center, now they’ve decided to include open space in their scope of destruction as well.  This is an interesting development, since the parks were all Master-Planned last year through a series of public meetings.  As mentioned in a previous blog (HERE) Laurie Higgins, who was not yet elected, attended that meeting and offered her opinion on the availability of parking and horse access to the Hess Preserve.

I suppose that the Board is still going to spend $400,000 on the skate park without checking to see how many residents of the community this recreation feature serves, even though Vagnozzi asked for just those metrics at a public meeting at the May 21, 2018 Board of Supervisors Meeting (HERE).  Are we to assume that the skate park will not be part of Pearson’s newly announced comprehensive park planning?  Wouldn’t that make this endeavor somewhat less than comprehensive?  Of course, horses don’t use skate parks, so maybe there is no need to look at repurposing the skate park space, after all.

Continue on, Gentle Reader and watch how three members of your five member board define transparency down, because we’re about to see exactly why that Open Meeting statute is PA State Law.

Pearson asks for comments and, unfortunately for him, his first commenter is Supervisor Phil Barker:

“Although I agree with your statement, you said that ‘we’ decided.  When did ‘we’ have a meeting that decided that? Or is that ‘you’ decided it?  I agree with the decision, mind you, but you keep saying ‘we’ and I don’t recall ‘we’ ever having a discussion about it.”

Pearson then tries to take the “Greg Brady Exact Words Defense” and smirks, “Ok then, ‘we,’ you and I then, never had a discussion about this.”

Exact words
Those weren’t your exact words.

Barker asks, “Well then who did?”

“I had a discu…we…I had a discussion with the other people at this Board and I had a discussion with staff,” Pearson stammers.

Barker wants to know, “What members of this Board?”

“I believe I had a discussion with, ummmm…” Pearson pauses, leans back and looks behind Calci at Vagnozzi, who is ignoring him. Seeing no help there, Pearson turns back to Barker and defiantly says, “I believe I just had a discussion with everybody probably maybe BUT you.”

What the still-malfunctioning microphones do not pick up effectively is the general unrest this comment has caused in the audience.  There are the audible gasps, protests and catcalls of, “That’s not very transparent!” in response to this admission by the Chairman of the Board.

Barker then asks, “So is that a violation of Sunshine Laws?”

Pearson, unnerved, offers his expert opinion:  “No, it’s not a violation of Sunshine Laws.”

We Decided.
We decided.

Barker responds, “If you had a discussion with everyone EXCEPT me, thank you very much?”

“I did not,” Pearson responds.  “I did not.”

He “did not” what?  He just admitted that he had a discussion with everyone but Barker.  Why is he lamely trying to backpedal?

Vagnozzi jumps in and notes that he and Pearson had a brief discussion that did not include purchasing the equipment.  He also agrees with tabling this decision, agrees that the announcement was premature, and says there was no decision made to purchase the equipment and that, “Perhaps you misspoke, John.”

Pearson’s Girls®, meanwhile, have literally not said a word up to this point.  Neither one has admitted to having a discussion on the Rec Center, but then why would Pearson need to actually “discuss” anything with them?  They are only there to vote yes for his Agenda of Petty Retribution and their silence during this exchange speaks volumes as to their purpose on this Board of Supervisors.

When Vagnozzi finishes speaking, Pearson, perhaps realizing that he has actually just admitted that he HAS violated Sunshine Laws—and with his own prepared remarks, no less— grasps at this meager lifeline Vagnozzi has thrown him, “That’s correct.  We haven’t officially made a decision.  I believe I have had a conversation with everybody up here except Phil.”

He “believes….?”  Does he know who he talked to or not?

Pearson then, once again, tries to welcome public comment, which he has “no problem with.”

It’s finally at this point that Calci feels she has something to add to the discussion on transparency and Sunshine Laws, and though I’m sure her intentions are to help Pearson out of the hole he’s dug himself, she only succeeds in digging him in deeper:

“One thing I want to say; we have Monday morning regular meetings at 10:00.  Two people on the Supervisor Board and I’ve extended the offer to you, Phil and it would be helpful—and I know you work during that time—but if, once in a while—and I know the last time I reached out to you, you said, ‘I’ll try to shift my schedule,’ it would be helpful if you would attend that meeting because that’s where we get filled in on some of these things and maybe that’s why you’re feeling a little…off to the side.  You know, that offer is always open—10 am Monday morning—if you’d like to come into the fold, maybe find out some of these discussions?  It would be helpful.”

This comment is met with more catcalls from the audience, and deservedly so, for two reasons, in my opinion.

secret meetingFirst and foremost, you have a glaring transparency issue.  These Monday morning meetings are Pearson’s meetings.  Since these meetings are non-public and unadvertised, only one other Supervisor, besides Pearson, can attend this meeting without violating Sunshine Laws.

In the old days, the Board used to have a monthly “Staff Meeting” on the third Wednesday morning of every month, except those meetings were advertised and the public was invited to attend.  The public rarely did attend, mostly because of the inconvenient time of day. And because all of the monthly meetings were advertised at once in January, this satisfied the letter of the Sunshine law.  I ended the Staff Meeting practice when I was Chairman of the Board because I felt too much business was being done out of the public eye.

Enter John Pearson, and we are right back to weekday morning “Staff Meetings,” except these are not advertised and the public is NOT invited to attend.

Yet here, at these Secret Monday Morning meetings, where the public is not permitted to attend, that’s where all the discussion and the decisions on Township matters are taking place.

Second point: here is Helene Calci, a woman who, because of her own busy schedule, only attended a handful of evening Township meetings prior to her election last fall, inviting Phil Barker into the fold.  My reaction to this statement was akin to biting into a piece of tinfoil.  Helene Calci has been politically involved in Township matters for all of six months.  Phil Barker has spent the last 17 years as a Township Supervisor and the six years before that on the Township Planning Commission.  Inviting him “into the fold” is not only arrogant presumption on her part, but her tone suggests that she is actually blaming Barker for not blowing off his job to attend Pearson’s secret meetings—which he can only attend if Higgins, Vagnozzi or Calci herself have not already decided to attend.

Barker then, very reasonably, asks that notes from these meetings be distributed.  Calci responds to this by asking Township manager Tieperman, “Don’t you distribute a debriefing memo on those meetings?”  When questions are shouted from the audience, Calci responds that Tieperman sends a debriefing memo to the Board every Monday morning, to which both Barker and Tieperman reply, “Not every Monday morning.”

So here is another duty to give to Tieperman: take notes of Pearson’s Secret Monday Morning meeting at 10 am, type them up, and distribute them in time for the rest of the Board to digest them before the 7pm Monday evening meeting.

The problem here is not the communication surrounding these meetings; the problem is that these meetings are happening at all.

Vagnozzi kind of sums up this point in his remarks, correctly stating that the entire point of the public meetings is to have discussion and debate on issues concerning the public, in public.

Things get even more interesting when Higgins finally breaks her silence by jumping into the hole with her own shovel and confirms the decision making process happening outside of a public meeting by explaining that the equipment purchase only came up that morning, and since it was a cost savings, it seemed like a “no brainer.”

Calci then doubles down on those comments and says,

“And again, that hasn’t been decided on, it just was a big cost saving and that’s what we’re trying to do moving forward with the fitness center, finding where we can save costs, and that’s why that was brought up.  Now whether or not we’ll vote on it or pass it….?”

Yello legal padA few things here:  First of all, it most certainly was decided upon.  The only reason Calci is backpedaling here is because Pearson found himself in hot water on Sunshine Law violations at the beginning of the meeting, having been caught stating on the record, from prepared notes, that they HAD, in fact, made a decision about this very thing.  A reminder, from Pearson’s written statement that started off the discussion:

“So here are our intentions.  We intend to purchase the equipment for $11,000 and not renew our lease for $38,000.”

We were told repeatedly at the last meeting that the closing of the fitness center was not about dollars and cents.  We were told that it was about serving more of the community.  all about the moneyBut here’s Calci, effectively tipping the Board’s hand and admitting to the agenda behind the closure of the Fitness Center.  And I’m skipping ahead a little bit here, but while we started off the meeting with Pearson’s Great Mea Culpa of 2018, the Board (at least three members) are not changing directions with the fitness center.  All they end up doing here is kicking the can down the road.  They don’t plan on re-opening the Center at 6AM, and they certainly don’t plan on marketing it to involve more of the community.

Calci admits here that the closing of the Rec Center is, in fact, about dollars and cents and all they have done is give it an 18 to 24 month reprieve, during which time they will strangle the lifeblood out of it and membership will drop, as members look to another venue knowing that the Rec Center is going to close.  In fact, Collegeville’s Anytime Fitness already got the word and distributed flyers to the cars in the parking lot during the meeting.

Solicitor Joe Bresnan weighs in on the Sunshine Law question, and states that the advantage of the Monday morning meeting is that two supervisors can meet and they don’t constitute a quorum of the Board, therefore Sunshine Laws are not breached.

Bresnan goes to great lengths to mitigate the question of a violation by tap dancing around semantics —perhaps use of the “royal we” is inappropriate.

Pearson just mis-spoke, is all.

It’s a feature, not a bug, of the newly expanded Board.

While this discussion has been happening, Barker has been busy locating the legendary debriefing email on his laptop.  Barker then states that he’s looking at it right now and there no mention of the rec center discussion.

Pearson then gets defensive, grilling Barker on whether or not he got the FAQs, (which were distributed in the Friday packet and linked below) and then he backpedals on saying that no decisions have been made.

Higgins then just wants to call it a “mis-statement.”

Pearson, at this point, is done being put on the hot seat and decides it’s better to talk to the angry residents than continue to have to defend his complete contempt for Pennsylvania’s Sunshine laws.

apologize
I’m really, really sorry.  I apologize unreservedly.

Residents come up and express their displeasure with the original decision to close, and incredibly, some of them even thank Pearson for giving the decision another 18 to 24 months, as if it wasn’t his bone headed move that put the whole thing up for debate in the first place.  It’s more than a little disappointing that not even the public is willing to hold him completely accountable.  It was Barker and Vagnozzi, and the commenting members of the public at the last meeting, who made Pearson so uncomfortable that he had to bow to the pressure.  They stopped this item of Pearson’s Agenda of Petty Retribution; not Pearson.

There are some additional comments from the public regarding the future of the Rec Center, but most of the remarks are a rehash of what has already been discussed.  Some residents come up with some good ideas worth exploring, but it’s obvious, to me at least, that these ideas are falling on deaf ears.  Pearson wants to kill the fitness center.

The main takeaway is that this was a dumpster fire entirely of Pearson’s making; his grand gesture of “taking full responsibility” rings completely hollow as he hasn’t heard the concerns; he’s not changing direction, he’s simply kicking the can down the road.  He is not investing anything in trying to make the fitness center a profit center, or increase its usage to more of the community.

The infamous FAQ’s, which I did not receive upon entering, are scanned at the link below.

4 – Agenda Item #3 – Recreation Center FAQs

The $1,250,000 Transfer from Reserves

The Board approved Resolution 2018-23 which approved the transfer of $1.25 million from reserves into the capital fund and post-retirement healthcare.

Let me say that again.

The Board approved Resolution 2018-23 which approved the transfer of $1.25 million from reserves into the capital fund and post-retirement healthcare.

This resolution created a bit of a buzz in the audience.  Finance director Rich Livergood explained that the Township is short $500,000 in their post-retirement healthcare fund according to their actuaries.  And they need to transfer $750,000 into the capital expenditure fund to help with the costs on the administration building.

Why are they transferring money from reserves for the Administration building? The Township has financing in place to pay for that.

And how do they get caught $500,000 short of post-retirement healthcare benefits?

And weren’t residents told by these Democrats during last year’s election cycle that using cash to pay for capital projects was bad (even though Pearson himself signed off on that?)

It’s only July in a fiscal year ending in December and they are already transferring $1,250,000 out of Township reserves to meet budget.

Troubling.

Irreconcilable Differences

The Board adjourned into Executive Session at the end of the meeting.  Pearson invited the audience to stick around until they come back, but immediately staff begins cleaning up the chairs, so to my knowledge, no one stuck around.

An Executive Session is a meeting of a quorum (or more) of the Board of Supervisors outside of the public eye.  There are several reasons to justify an executive session, but mostly, they have to be regarding litigation, land purchase or personnel issues.  A quorum (majority) of the board cannot meet outside of a public meeting to make decisions on Township business.  Executive Sessions not only must be announced for the record, but the reason for the meeting must be announced as well.  The announced reason for this executive Session was to discuss personnel matters.

Upon reconvening, the Board voted to approve the severance package discussed during executive session.

Although I did not know it at the time, the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, Josh Overholt, had just tendered his resignation.

Please indulge your humble blogress in a bit of wanton speculation regarding another Board created quagmire: the Township’s Fire and EMS Services.

As was famously noted by this blog (HERE), the newly created Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night did not include the presumptive expert on the relevant subject matter, the Township’s paid Fire Chief, Josh Overholt.  In fact, as was meticulously documented on the UPT Board Meeting Notes of 5/21/18 (HERE), great pains were taken by Pearson and Pearson’s Girls® to specifically exclude Overholt from the committee while simultaneously attempting to add more members to the committee from the Black Rock Fire Company.

The slide show presented at the April 4 meeting regarding Fire and EMS had significant changes from the original presentation that was put together by Overholt.  Specifically:

  1. After citing “geographical challenges” as a primary concern in the 4/4 meeting, the Township instead moves ahead with relocating the Township’s paid daytime fire crew from their central location at the Black Rock Municipal campus to the Oaks fire station located in the south east corner of the Township. Overholt’s original presentation called for the merging of the volunteers with the Township paid staff only after the completion of the proposed new Fire and EMS Station at the Black Rock Municipal Campus.
  2. Training standards and minimum qualifications for the volunteer companies contracting with the Township were included in Overholt’s presentation. Those requirements were absent from the 4/4 presentation and have not been made a part of the Township’s Milestones.
  3. Overholt’s original presentation included a slide stating that both the Oaks and Mont Clare Stations struggle, but implied that the Mont Clare Station should be closed to effect cost savings—a point BRVFC leadership had asked the Township to help with for several years. The revised 4/4 presentation wants only to “evaluate the viability” of the Mont Clare Station while identifying possible upgrades to the Oaks station.  As we have seen, those improvements have moved forward with very little discussion from the Board.
goodbye
Hitting the road

Now, to be clear, I have not talked to Overholt, so what follows is pure speculation.  But hypothetically speaking, if I’m Josh Overholt, and I’m faced with implementing a series of Fire and EMS policies that directly contradict policies I recommended based on my hard-earned expertise and qualifications, I may just come to the conclusion that my expertise not only doesn’t matter, but further, that I may end up as the fall guy when the policies fail.  If I’m Josh Overholt, I might just bail out of my job.  And because I have some kind of leverage over my employer, if I’m Josh Overholt, I may be in a position to negotiate some sort of severance package that has to be approved in an Executive Session.

 

Hypothetically speaking, of course.  Needless to say, the Township’s decision on who will replace Overholt bears close watching.

Other Board Business

  • Chief Toomey recognized the following Upper Providence Police with commendations:
    • February 2018:  James Enright, Steve Dise and Shea Johnson recognized for saving a woman who slit her own throat on Station Avenue.
    • September 2017:  Sgt. Matt Tobin, Detective Pat Haines and Officer Shea Johnson professional conduct resulted in a successful prosecution of a burglary.
    • Sgt. Bill Dixon received a letter of special achievement for completion of a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s University.  Received the criminal justice award for the student with the highest GPA for a criminal justice major with Alpha Sigma Lambda graduated Summa Cum Laude
  • Ashenfelter Bridge repair bid for design of replacement is tabled by Pearson with no discussion.
  • Tentative sketch plan for the BRW Health Center was approved; conditional use was approved at the last meeting.
  • The Board tables a recommendation by the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night of appointing D’Huy engineering to complete the pre-design phase of the new Fire/EMS building at the Blackrock Campus. Total spend will be $18,500.
  • The Board appoints Maillie to perform the audit of the Township’s financials. In a change from past years, the Board approved Maillie for two years instead of it’s customary one year contract.
  • The Board adopted a series of PennDOT resolutions in connection with a previously awarded Green-Light-Go grant.
  • Tieperman reports that they have received four responses to their RFPs for the Medic Responder unit.  Staff is currently reviewing.
  • PennDOT proposing to finally reconstruct the culvert on 2nd Ave.
  • GSK has received their wetlands permit, so they can complete the trail along Black Rock Road.

Let the Sun Shine

Image result for let the sunshine 40 year old virgin

As is becoming more and more apparent, the only township decisions that actually matter are those decisions taking place somewhere other than at a scheduled, advertised and public Board of Supervisors meeting.

Regular readers have probably already discerned a pattern with this new Board.  The three newly elected Supervisors (Democrats, all) arrive at Monday evening meetings with prepared talking points and votes decided before any public discussion has taken place.  This doesn’t just happen occasionally; it happens

All.

The.

Time.

Is this the transparency you were promised with the expansion of the Five Member Board?  Was the systematic exclusion of the two Republican voices on the Board part of the “additional veiwpoints” you thought you’d get when you were told we needed more representation?Yello legal pad

Perhaps this is a good time to refresh readers on his earlier remarks; the remarks he prepared and wrote out in preparation for this meeting and read into the record from his yellow legal pad (emphasis mine):

As chairman of this board, I take full responsibility for putting the cart before the horse on this fitness center issue.  You are right.  We should have been more transparent about our decision to re-purpose the rec center building.  We should have taken the time to give you, the residents, the courtesy of letting you know our intentions.  So here are our intentions.  We intend to purchase the equipment for $11,000 and not renew our lease for $38,000.  The fitness center will remain open until we come up with a comprehensive plan to re-purpose this facility in the next 18 to 24 months.  We will do another survey to see what the majority for our residents want and we look forward to any positive input that those here tonight would like to contribute.

“Here are our intentions”  sounds an awful lot like a decision to me.

Calci then doubles down on the lack of transparency by telling the public all about Pearson’s Secret Monday Morning Meetings that only a select few are briefed upon.

Higgins puts the cherry on top by explaining that the decision to purchase the equipment was a “no-brainer.”

To be clear: the problem here is not that Barker can’t, or won’t attend Pearson’s secret Monday morning meetings.

The problem is that these meetings are even happening at all.

One of the neat tricks of expanding the Board of Supervisors from three to five members, is that having a discussion with another Supervisor outside of a public meeting no longer constitutes a quorum.  On a three-member Board, two members constitute a quorum; on a five member Board, three members constitute a quorum. I think John Pearson believes that as long as he doesn’t have a quorum of the Board present in the same room, he’s not violating Sunshine Laws because, as the Greg Brady Exact Words rule goes, he’s only talking to one Board member at a time.

Exact words conseq
Were those your exact words, Greg?

And maybe he’s correct, technically, but this practice, which has been going on since the new board members took office, certainly violates the spirit of the law.  And the Open records statute is very clear on one point: the Board cannot make decisions outside of a public meeting.

We all know how “Exact Words” worked out for Greg Brady.  Let’s see how it works out for John Pearson.