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

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

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

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

Saving the Day

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for here i come to save the day gif

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

Skate Away

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

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

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

Who’s Steering this thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide1Slide2Slide3

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a great question.

Other Business

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

UPDATE: Emergency!

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

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

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

8h AltScoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The RTK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I received the following documents as part of my request:

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

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

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

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

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

EMS Ordinance

Budget Discrepancies

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

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

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

Original budget
Budget analysis from RTK

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

Which Agencies are Impacted?

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

skeptical
Seems sketchy

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

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

medicrespondes
Like New. $80,000 OBO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Fire Ordinance

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Rock’s Mont Clare Station

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

5 FirePolicy1
Official Slide Show

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

MC Station
March Slide Show

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

Moving Engine 93

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

Definingthechallenges
Slide from the Official Slide Show

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

Coverage maps
Slide from the March Slide Show

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

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

two orgs independent
Slide from March Slideshow

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

2c Response times
Slide from Official Slideshow

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

Stipend

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

roy
You’re gonna pay me to do what?

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

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

Qualifications of Fire Fighters

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

FF quals
Slide from March Slide Show

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

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

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

By the way…

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

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

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

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

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

“Objective Recommendation of Staff…?” 

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

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

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

Parting thoughts:

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

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

Which option do you think will keep us safer?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Ordinance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMS Ordinance

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

A. Phase 1 Milestones: 

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

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

johnnyandroy
State of the Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calci’s prepared statement:

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

A few thoughts on Calci’s statement.

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

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

Third, let’s talk about that scoring matrix.

8h AltScoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vagnozzi’s response to this was,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The letter in question is here:

VagnozziLTE

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

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

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

Is this the transparency you voted for?

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

Promotions and Life Saving Awards

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

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

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

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

Planning and Zoning Report

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

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

Other business

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

UPT Board Meeting Notes Episode 5: Special Fire & Emergency Services Meeting

I attended the April 4 special meeting in person, but even so, there were things I missed, or comments I did not note at the beginning of the meeting that had special relevance to the overall presentation and the conclusions about that presentation, so rewatching it online was instructive.  If you haven’t watched, and you live in Upper Providence and you want to keep on living, I highly recommend you educate yourself on this topic as decisions are going to be made on this issue on Monday.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have been pretty vocal in my assertions that the newly elected Democrats shamelessly lied and politicized Fire and Emergency services during their campaign to get elected and in doing so, did a great disservice to the residents of this Township.  For those of you who may be wondering if this meeting has changed my mind on the competency or integrity of the Democrats decision making process on providing public safety services to the Township, it has not.  In fact, this meeting only solidified my opinion of these Board members as short-sighted, lacking in vision, and timid in their committment to do what is best for the residents of this Township.

During my term as Township Supervisor, I spent countless hours devoted to the issue of providing Fire and Emergency services to the Township, and as such, I have definite opinions on how such services should be provided.  As detailed in an earlier post, the previous Board had adopted a way forward on the provision of Fire and EMS services in March of 2017 via an objective, Township staff-prepared confidential fifteen-page white paper that included findings of fact and recommendations.  Based on the information presented in that memo, the previous Board decided to order an ambulance and conducted interviews with the three township EMS service providers to determine which company would staff the ambulance.  The contract was not awarded because of the election results.

At the 2/5/18 meeting, the newly elected Democrats refused to move forward with this plan, cancelling the purchase of the ambulance and whining that they had only been in office for 35 days and therefore needed another 60 days to “study” this issue.

Apparently, “study” does not mean read the 15 page staff white paper or any of the body of work produced under the previous Board or watch any of the meetings on this issue.

One of the presentation’s first slides asks the question, “Why are we here?”  I have a slightly different answer to that question than the one provided by Township Manager Tim Tieperman and it comes later on in this post.  Be warned, this post is a long one, to give this important topic the attention it deserves.

As usual, embedding is not permitted, so the video can be found HERE.

The Challenges

What follows is an abbreviated version of the publicly presented slide show at the 4/4/18 meeting.  This is a summary only, and again, if you live in Upper Providence Township and you care about your life and your property, you really should watch the meeting in it’s entirety.

1 BuckStopsHere

Tieperman started off the presentation by reminding everyone in the room whose responsibility this is.

2 Fire Challenges

Because of the odd shape of the Township, the geographical challenges are the same for Fire and EMS services.  The following map (which is not from the slide presentation) illustrates how a centrally located Fire and EMS facility will provide better coverage to the interior of the Township, an area which has experienced the most recent growth in population.

2b Centralized EMS

Demographics and geography are factors affecting Fire response times.

2c Response times

Moving on to EMS challenges:

3 EMS Challenges

Geography and call zones impact response times for EMS service, which, it should be noted, are within acceptable parameters according to the State:

3a EMS Response TImes

The Goals

The Township Staff recommended measurable goals for the provision of Fire and EMS responses.

4 Goals

Staff’s policy recommendations for achieving these goals:

5 FirePolicy1

6 FirePolicy2

The addition of personnel and hours that the paid crew will operate the Township’s Engine 93 was further analyzed on the following slides.

6a FirePolicy2aStaffing

6b FirePolicy2bStaffingBudgetA little elaboration is called for at this point.  I agree wholeheartedly with this recommendation, and I presume that the Board does as well, but it should be noted that this proposal is calling for a $206,841 increase in the township’s fire protection budget and the hiring of two additional staff members to accomodate the additional hours.

The four volunteer fire companies (Black Rock, Trappe, Royersford and Collegeville) and the three EMS squads (Friendship, Trappe and Lower Providence) who provide first due service to Upper Providence are funded collectively in the amount of $290,000 per year.  Up until two years ago, none of that funding pool was being distributed to our EMS squads.  And only last year, the Board adopted a new fire funding formula, which reallocated that funding to more fairly compensate the service providers according to their level of service.  The details of that funding formula can be found HERE.

Point being, the level of service that we have been receiving from the volunteers has been declining (as evidenced by the need to provide 12 hour/7day a week paid fire staffing), but the township funding level of those services has remained constant for decades.  This is not an indictment of any of the volunteer fire companies, simply a fact, and one that is not unique to Upper Providence. As Tieperman notes in detail at the beginning of the presentation, volunteerism is way down all across the Commonwealth and municipalities are struggling with the fiscal ramifications of providing fire protection without volunteers.

At the 58:27 mark in the question and answer section at the end of the presentation, resident, (and Montgomery Township firefighter) Frank Colleli raises an excellent point about how the future plans for the centralized fire station will affect the Township’s funding levels for the volunteer companies.  Currently, Upper Providence supports four first due companies which are funded by the Township because of their first due status; Colleli’s question notes that the centralized station would make the Township first due at many locations throughout the Township and our volunteer companies would go from first due status to mutual aid.  As Colleli correctly notes, we spend a lot of money on the volunteer companies, and other Townships, like neighboring Limerick, do not financially support companies like Trappe, a company who is often responding to calls within that Township under mutual aid.

For now, the Board has no plans to adjust the current funding formula, a point Assistant Township Manager Bryan Bortnichak reiterated at the end of his response to Mr. Colleli’s question.

At this juncture in the post, I’m simply going to remind my readers of the following representations made by the Democrats during the campaign last fall.

1MailersideA

Moving on.

7 FirePolicy3

This is another recommendation I agree is necessary, but I want to pause here and note that in order to build this necessary facility, the Administration facility had to be built first, so a lot of the Democrats’ demagoguery surrounding the new Township Administration Building is, again, short sighted and lacking in vision.  As mentioned previously, the Black Rock Campus improvements were outlined in the Township’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan Update starting on Page 29 which was approved by John Pearson, Phil Barker and Bob Fieo.

The cost for a centralized Fire and EMS facility, which is contemplated to be built across the street from the Police and Administration buildings, is estimated between $3.2 million and $4.0 million according to Bortnichak.

I should also note that a mere 90 days into their term, the new Board has already held a meeting that necessitated a much larger venue than is currently available through existing Township facilities, even if the old meeting hall was still usable.  When I mentioned to Pearson after the meeting that it was too bad that the new Administration facility wasn’t done yet, he chuckled first, then snapped, “I still think it’s too big.”  Oh really?  Based on what?  Our shrinking population?  Again: short sighted.

8 FirePolicy4

I’m going to skip policy recommendation #4 for right now and come back to it at the end of the post, since it is the main reason for the meeting and there is a lot—quite a lot–to unpack on this subject.

9 Budget analysis

Staff’s proposals would result in an 18.8% increase over the Township’s current FEMS budget and greatly improve public safety in the Township.

11 PSLevy

For all of those who got the Democrats campaign mailer above and were wondering, “Where did that money go?” Here is the answer to that question.  This levy was implemented because the prior Board knew that the costs for providing Fire and EMS services were going to increase, and increase quickly.  As you can see, the levy does not even cover the entire current fire budget, and it only offsets a portion of the police budget, which is approximately $6 million per year.  Of course, now that the Democrats know where that money went, do you think they will apologize for lying to the public about it?

11a PSLevyPrp

11b PSLevyBrkdn

Staff is proposing to change the allocation of this money to more adequately support the areas that most need the dollars to support them.

14 UPTTax

And we are the seventh lowest in Montgomery County overall.

Long Range FEMS Plan

After noting what has already been accomplished on this issue, Tieperman presented the following milestones:

12 MilestonesP112a Milestone12b Milestones12c Milestones12d Milestone12e Milestones13 LTStrat13a LTStrat13b LTStrat

Why are we here?

For this:

8 FirePolicy4

Here’s the real reason why this meeting was necessary.

As readers may recall, since I reminded you all of it at the beginning of this post, there was a great hue and cry over having to make a decision on this issue after “only being in office for 35 days!”  The newly elected Democrats insisted that they needed an additional 60 days for “further study” on this issue.  The result of that “study” was this meeting.

The Township proposed two options for meeting the EMS needs of the township, outlined in the following slides  Alternative 1 is the full service Ambulance Option:

8b Alt1b

8c Alt1c

As a point of full disclosure, these two cons were also sticking points for me during the ambulance evaluation process.  At about 55:15 in the meeting, Vagnozzi addresses these “cons” points with some statistics. He notes that there were 1,602 EMS calls in the Township last year and of that number, a full 25% were not responded to by the first due ambulance assigned.  Vagnozzi’s argument is that the only reason for this is because the “ambulance squads are busy,” and their response areas are kind of like a “jigsaw puzzle,” in that whoever is closest, responds. Additionally, he notes that the coverage area for the three squads assigned to Upper Providence is bigger than it appears on the map that was presented, which only looked at areas within the boundaries of Upper Providence.  These squads have first due responsibilities in other municipalities and take about 4,000 calls per year each.

At 1:19:40 Vagnozzi talks about the “tethering” of the ambulance or medic response unit to the township and states that in practical application, it will not happen.  He contends that a paramedic or EMT is going to go where he is needed, whether he is in an ambulance or a medic response unit.  Our fire companies and our police regularly respond to the call for mutual aid outside of our boundaries; it is folly to think that a medic responder won’t do the same.  He also elaborates on how these services are delivered, reiterating that the squads are “busy” but noting that this first due issue he brought up earlier is a “capacity” problem, and that a centrally located ambulance in Upper Providence will alleviate some of the capacity issues and allow all the squads to better serve their response areas.

Regarding mutual aid and the “tethering” of a medic responder to this Township, I have to agree with Vagnozzi on this unequivocally.  Upper Providence has no “home” ambulance; we therefore rely on the services of EMS providers who are located outside of our boundaries.  We also have only one “home” volunteer fire company, Black Rock, that covers approximately 55% of the Township, with the other 45% of the Township being covered by volunteer fire companies located in other municipalities.  Additionally, there are many other local fire and EMS companies with no first due responsibilities to this township who respond to emergencies here.  Having a medic responder resource that we are unwilling to “share” with our neighbors in the spirit of mutual aid not only seems short-sighted, but downright selfish and un-neighborly.

The Medic Responder unit alternative was discussed next.

8d Alt2a

8e Alt2b

8f Alt2c

8g Alt2d

Budgetary comparison, Year One Analysis:

8i AltBudget

The Year One analysis presented above is inclusive of the capital outlay for a vehicle, either an Ambulance or a Medic Responder unit.  The payroll would be for a contracted employee, therefore, there is no additional insurance expense or increase in Township staff levels (I asked).  Vagnozzi notes throughout the presentation that these numbers are not inclusive of subscriptions to the ambulance companies or corporate donations.

8j AltBudgetyrs2

After Year One, the operating costs of the ambulance decrease dramatically and will continue to decrease as housing comes on line and call volume increases.  Indeed, it is conceivable that within the next two to five years, the call volume will be so high that the Ambulance could be self-sustaining. On the other hand, the costs for the Medic Responder will never decrease, regardless of call volume.

8h AltScoring

The grid above is a handy visual, but I have a few problems with it as the categories are not weighted.  If the Board is following it’s mandate, the first three line items in this grid should be given more weighting than the other three, especially since line items 4 and 5 are in contention and Vagnozzi, with whom I have had my issues in the past over this very subject, makes compelling arguments on both of these points.

I would also take issue with rating the Ambulance option as a 2 for cost impact as opposed to a 3 since there were no subscriptions or corporate donations taken into account for the budgetary analysis and the costs for the ambulance decline year over year while the budgetary impact of the medic responder never decreases  With these items properly weighted and adjusted, the impact of either option is about equal.

…..And here’s where the politics comes in

At 1:25:00, Vagnozzi states flat out, “If we do a medic responder, we are failing this community.”  He then states that, “There are people on this Board who are caring more about the organizations that serve us than the community itself.”

Now as a little bit of inside baseball, in August 2017, Trappe, Friendship and Lower Providence ambulance squads all prepared and presented proposals, including budgets, for their respective companies to contract with Upper Providence and provide staffing for our Township-owned ambulance.  After the election, but before I left the Board, one of those squads (and I am not going to say which one), met exclusively with the newly elected Democrats before they were sworn in and gave them a completely different set of budgetary numbers than they presented to us in August.  Those numbers, which I have seen, show that if the Township awards them the contract, they will be negatively impacted and if the Township doesn’t award them the contract, they will be negatively impacted. In fact, the only option that will sustain their Organization is for the Township to do nothing.

I think the Democrats were perfectly happy doing nothing based solely on this limited information, until they got backed into a corner by the facts and Vagnozzi.  So the next best thing to doing nothing is to do as little as possible.

The diffference here is between supporting an expanded service versus an additional service.  Many people in Upper Providence already “subscribe” to an ambulance service and even more pay for healthcare insurance that covers ambulance service.  Implementing an ambulance service in Upper Providence would only require subsidizing the income of an existing ambulance organization to staff a centrally-located, Township-owned ambulance, with reducing costs year over year, until the service eventually pays for itself.

The costs of implementing a Medic Responder not only never decrease, but the Township is essentially asking the residents to double pay for this service in perpetuity.  If they need transport, the ambulance company will still bill their insurance company (or the patient directly) and their need for an ambulance subscription will not go away even though their tax dollars are supporting an additional service.

Resident Dr. Icenhower, apparently seeing that the majority of the Board is leaning towards the Medic Responder option, asks if this issue hasn’t been batted around enough and whether the Township going to get the best “bang for it’s buck” with this option.  At 1:31:59, Higgins responds that, “The Medic Responder Unit is the easiest way to go, in my opinion, at this point.”

Calci follows up those remarks at 1:32:34 with, “For right now, this is what we are looking at, till the next two years when we’ll build the central location for Fire and Emergency Services location.  At that point, when the numbers in the center of town maybe increase, then we can re-calibrate whether we are on the right track.  So I don’t want to say that we’ll never get an ambulance.  Maybe in two years it will make more sense to do that.”

At 1:33:27, resident Frank Colleli returns to the microphone and brings up the obvious budgetary point about the ambulance vs. the medic responder in years two and beyond.  He asks, “Isn’t there more cost benefit to the residents” by choosing the ambulance?

Pearson responds with a defensive, “If all you care about is dollars and cents,” and a snarky, “you’re entitled to your opinion,” which is becoming typical disrespectful treatment by Pearson of residents with whom he disagrees.  Funny how at the beginning of this meeting he was “still struggling with what most of these [EMS] terms mean,” and by the end, he’s the expert, lecturing a professional firefighter on EMS services.

Resident and Black Rock Fire Company member Steve Smith approaches and wants to know why the Board never considered putting an ambulance at Black Rock Fire Station, claiming it does not have to be centrally located.  To that, Calci responded, “We didn’t want to disrupt the applecart and pick an agency to fill the spot and disrupt the other circles that surround the Township.”

Predetermined Conclusions

The Democrats have a palpable aversion to the idea of buying a full service ambulance, as if buying equipment for emergency services is some ground breaking precedent (the Township buys equipment for Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company all the time).  But somehow, the idea of a purchasing limited use Medic Responder unit is not at all offensive.  I’d give real money to understand their objections here.

In the two solid years that the Board debated this issue, the idea of having a medic responder as an alternative to a full service ambulance was never proposed or considered.  Bearing in mind that it was a brand new idea, and remembering that the Democrats’ whole reason for the 60 day delay was to “get educated” on this issue, why weren’t there any questions on this service from Pearson, Higgins, or Calci?

Why was there only a vigorous defense of their pre-determined conclusion?  A conclusion which did not offer a solution to the problem, but instead, was about only what they would NOT do:  put a centrally located Ambulance in Upper Providence Township.

How much staff time and corresponding tax dollars were wasted in having staff generate yet another report when they just did this same analysis only a year ago?

It’s fun to sit on a dais and subject people to your little “tidbits of wisdom” and give away tax dollars to your friends and pass meaningless resolutions against Donald Trump, and maybe that’s all they thought this job was going to be.  And maybe some of you elected them to do just that.  But for a bunch of supposed liberals offering a “fresh perspective,” they sure are pretty closed-minded.  Despite all of the information they have been given, and all of the staff hours spent in service to this project, they had already decided what they were going to do on this issue way back in December.  They just needed 60 days to create a fact set to back up their politically derived conclusion.

Each Board member talked about doing what was “easy, ” or “quick.”  They talked about “revisiting” this issue at a later date, about this being the best solution for “right now,” or “at this point.”  About “not disrupting the applecart.” Calci herself talked about implementing the ambulance option in two years–which, if the Medic Responder unit is really the “best” option that Pearson says it is, why even talk about it as a temporary solution?  Shouldn’t the Medic Responder unit BE the long range solution?  Didn’t Pearson promise us a “comprehensive approach to Fire and Emergency Services and a plan that will take us into the future” at the very beginning of the meeting?

Instead, we are asked to believe that this short-sighted, limited-term option is the best solution for our residents.

Let’s be very clear about one thing:  The decision on how the Township will provide Fire and EMS services rests with the Board of Supervisors, and ONLY the Board of Supervisors.  They can try to generate “cover” for their decisions with their appeals to authority.  They can direct staff to come up with a nice dog and pony show for the public and they can ask staff to make a recommendation, and they can poll the county and talk to ambulance workers, but at the end of the day, it’s their decision how this matter is handled.  If a preventable tragedy occurs now that these deficiencies have been identified, and the Board’s response to that information is found to be inadequate, this is not on anyone but them.

The buck, after all, stops here.

 

 

 

 

UPT Board Meeting Notes Episode 4: Love Thy Neighbor

The regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors on April 2, 2018, has no icon on the Township’s web page, but the video is indeed up.  It appears that I was the first one to watch it.

As usual, no embedding is possible so video can be found HERE.

This meeting clocks in at a very reasonable 63 minutes, perhaps because Villanova was playing for the National Championship at 9:30.

All in all, a pretty routine meeting, with a couple of issues worth highlighting.

Less than a minute to win it

Remember six weeks ago, when the Board actually tried (and failed) to come up with a legitimate justification to spend tax dollars to preserve a farm belonging to Laurie Higgins’ neighbors?  It seems like just yesterday that the Democrats were grasping at the slim possibility of putting in trails to nowhere to legitimize this spend, even though the landowner was on record as having no intention of granting public access to his land.

Ah yes.  Good times, good times.

This proposal had been before the Board three previous times and denied three times, (for all the reasons documented in detail HERE) and yet, despite no material changes to the proposal from the last time it was before the Board in October of 2017, by some miracle, it reappeared on the agenda a mere four months later.

At the 4/2 meeting, the Democrat Board majority didn’t even pretend that there is some kind of a public benefit for the spend on this land.

free moneyIt took the Board less time to vote on giving Laurie Higgins’ friends $574,000 of your tax money than it did for John Pearson to read his insipid “tidbit of wisdom” at the start of the meeting.  With no discussion, $86,100 of township tax dollars, with the balance coming from state and county funds, were spent on a property which offers our residents no amenities and pays a mere fraction of the property taxes you and I pay.

The vote went down along party lines, 3 to 2, but of course there was no executive session…

…..to report.

Anyway, there’s nothing else to say on this matter except welcome to a Fresh Perspective on fiscal responsibility.

Intersection of Opportunity

Silver Rhino came in with an interesting proposal for a development at the intersection of Route 29, Hopwood and Yerkes, arguably the Township’s most problematic intersection.  Development has been thwarted here because of the requirement to improve that intersection.  29 is a state road, and therefore falls under the purview of PennDOT, but improving that intersection is not high on PennDOTs to do list.

had me at green roof
You had me at ‘green roof.’

The project that the developer presented was 45 units on 10.25 acres abutting the Perkiomen Trail and the creek.  The units would be mostly 2 bedrooms, about 1,000 sf each.  The developer places a premium of environmentally friendly design, and talked about reflective light roofs and green roofs to disperse a heat island effect.

Specifically, the developer was requesting a change in the zoning to R4, which is the township’s multi-family zoning, or approximately 12 units per acre.  Additionally, they would need relief on the height restriction of approximately 35 feet to go to 55 feet.

The developer was looking for direction from the Board as to whether this is a project that the Township has interest in pursuing.  Though there is a lot of ground to cover as far as designing and funding the improvements for that intersection, having a developer who is willing to work with the Township on this is a start.  It will be interesting to see if this gets to the next stage.

Yerkes StationThe May Meeting

During Manager’s comment’s Tim Tieperman noted that Mike Jacobs called to request a meeting with the Board and Dr. Rifkin at the end of May.  These folks are either the owners, or represent the ownership interests of the Parkhouse property, it’s kind of hard to get a clear answer on their roles.  Since no purpose or agenda for this meeting was announced, I’m not going to jump to conclusions, but I will be keeping a very close eye on this meeting.

Various and Sundry

  • The Board asked for volunteer to fill a vacancy on the Ag Security Council.  If you care about what kind of land we’re going to be spending taxpayer dollars on, you may want to volunteer for this.
  • The Board voted to reduce the speed of Linfield Trappe Road from 45 to 40 miles per hour.
  • Chief Toomey noted in his report that the Department had reached out to the trucking companies on Hollow Road about cleaning up their trash.  They recognized this was their responsibility and cleaned up the road.
  • Toomey also noted that improved signage was placed on Hollow Road to prevent truck drivers from turning down and getting stuck at the 10’ bridge.  There was nothing they could do about GPS.
  • Toomey finally noted that the highway safety officer has been working with the school bus drivers on complaints about drivers passing stopped school buses. In addition to targeted enforcement, the police have also moved our lighted highway sign to problem spots around the township to increase awareness of school bus traffic safety.  For their responsiveness, our police department has been thanked by the school bus drivers.
  • Township Engineer, Bill Dingan, noted three grant opportunities for the township.
    • A sewer infrastructure grant for 2,000 feet of sewer line on Old State Road connecting 8 residences.
    • A PennDOT grant to replace a culvert at Second Ave between Hafner and Old State Roads.
    • An offer to provide financial and structural assistance from a local business owner on the Schuykill River Trail connection project.

Next Up

The Board’s special Fire and Emergency Services Meeting held on 4/4/18

‘Stormy’ Conditions; Limited Visibility

In spite of all appearances, Democrats don’t really care about President Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels.  Sure the salacious details and the painful daily drip of information compounded by Trump’s increasingly implausible denials make for a sordid and compelling media circus, but that’s not why Stormy Daniels is suddenly the darling of the left.  There’s nothing illegal about an affair.

No, I think the Democrats’ interest in the l’affaire de Stormy stems from a newfound interest in Campaign Finance laws.  Any money spent in order to influence the outcome of an election must be reported on the candidate’s campaign finance report.  If what Daniels says is true, that her silence about the alleged affair was bought by the Trump campaign just prior to the election, a strong case can be made that not only did the omission of this payout constitute a violation of  campaign finance laws, but the alleged amount of $130,000 exceeds political donation limits.

I have no brief for the Trump / Daniels affair.  This will play out on the national stage regardless of what I may think about it.

My concerns are of a more local nature.

Campaign finance reports are all about transparency.  Transparency is word a lot of politicians like to throw around to ingratiate themselves with voters.  Campaign finance reports are the first indication of a politician’s (or political movement’s) commitment to transparency.  They allow voters to “follow the money” and are a public accounting of who has given money to help elect a particular candidate or promote a particular agenda. They are publicly available, either online, or in the case of local municipal races, upon request from County Voter Services (and if you want copies, there is a fee).  Campaign finance reports are a valuable source of information both for what they report, and often times, for what they don’t report.

Links for relevant documentation have been provided at the end of each section.

A laughable affadavit

Our first story begins with Voter Services over two years ago, following the 2015 election.  I had heard that a Republican Committeeman had given money to Democrat John Pearson.  For you non-politicos out there, the one unbreakable rule for political committee people is that they cannot support a candidate from a Party other than their own (and depending upon who this committeeperson is, and how much the County chairman needs his donations, its sometimes more of a guideline than a rule).

Pearson 2015 campiagn mailerIn any event, sometime in mid-2016, I requested John Pearson’s campaign finance reports to see if he had reported a donation from this Republican committeeman, only to be told that no such reports existed for candidate John Pearson in the 2015 election.  The task slipped from my ‘to do’ list for several months, but, as I am a person of a tenacious nature, loose ends eventually catch up to me and the  reports were requested again in the May of 2017 and July of 2017 with the same result from Voter Services: no such reports exist.

When pressed as to why not, since John Pearson was clearly a candidate for Township Supervisor in 2015, and had spent more than $250 on his campaign, Voter Services replied that John Pearson had “filled out his waiver,” which is an affidavit affirming that the candidate is not going to spend more than $250 during the election cycle and subsequently, it absolved him from campaign finance reporting.  Their work was done.

I was incredulous and more than a little irritated:  If all it takes to get you out of filling out those tedious campaign finance reports is lying on an affidavit about how much money you intend to spend on your campaign, why wouldn’t everyone do it, since there is apparently no enforcement mechanism in place to make sure that candidates are being transparent?

Instead of getting discouraged by Voter Services’ DMV-level customer service, their evasive responses only made me more determined to get to the bottom of this issue.

Pearson 2015 Community day2John Pearson purchased yard signs, mailers, balloons, chip clips, and at least five big vinyl signs for his run for Township Supervisor in 2015 against Al Vagnozzi. Citing these expenditures, I asked for proof that Pearson had been fined for not submitting campaign finance reports when not only had he had clearly spent over $250, but I’m not sure how he could honestly sign an affidavit promising that he was going to keep his campaign expenditures under $250 when he knew he had to face a Republican opponent (Al Vagnozzi) in the fall.

Voter Services incorrectly told me that if I wanted documentation of a fine, that I should file a Right to Know request or RTK, which, effectively bought them another 30 days without having to supply an answer.  Unsurprisingly, my RTK was denied.

pearson under investigationAt this point, I’m feeling like a little conspiracy of obfuscation is going on, so I consulted with an attorney, who informed me that Voter Services had no right to direct me to file an RTK and that, in keeping with the theory of transparency behind the law, campaign finance records are supposed to be available upon request.  I filed a complaint against Voter Services with the County and, together with my running mate, appeared in front of the County Election Board and, armed with photographic evidence of these campaign expenditures, demanded answers to this issue.  At that meeting, Commissioner Ken Lawrence, the Chairman of the Election Board, promised to look into the matter and get a resolution.  When I pressed him on a time frame, he promised to call me before the end of the day and let me know how the matter would be resolved.

Commissioner Lawrence did call me that evening and promised an investigation by County Detectives.  This was later confirmed via email by Karley Sisler, the Director of Voter Services.  I have no idea of the timing of this investigation, nor have I been able to get documentation as my request for this documentation has been denied.

In spite of admitting to the White Springs HOA not only that he was under investigation, but why, John Pearson cut a video bemoaning the ugliness of politics and asking “Does this feel like a hometown campaign to you?”  Like all Fresh Perspectives campaign videos, except for the one positive video, this video has been taken down and is no longer available.  Maybe you saw it, though. Maybe it was texted directly to your phone.

Pearson Outrage

For what it’s worth, this last election never felt like a “home town” election to me either.  The level of hate, lies, animosity and just downright dirty dealings that were flung against me during the last two years of my term seemed all out of proportion with a Township Supervisor position, but that’s a story for another time.

Letter from VSThe question comes down to this: did John Pearson, who ran for Township Supervisor six times, REALLY have no idea of how campaign finance laws work?  Or did he willfully sign an affidavit with no intention of abiding by its terms of keeping his expenditures under $250?  In either case, the righteous indignation in the video is a bit over-the-top and I wonder how many takes they had to do until he could actually read his cue cards with a bit of emotion.

This past week, I finally got some measure of closure.  Pearson submitted two after-the-fact 2015 campaign finance reports on December 28, 2017 and was fined $500 for lateness (I also got a copy of the check).  The reports list zero donations and is still missing several expenditures for balloons, chip clips (the chip clips alone cost his 2017 campaign $672) and vinyl signs.

The report has every appearance of a hastily scribbled out box-checking exercise that he completed to fulfill his absolute bare minimum obligation to the law.  Regarding his promise of transparency to his constituents, he has failed mightily.

Voter Services Complaint

112315 Pearson 2ndFriPreEle

101915 Pearson 6thTuePreEle

011918 VS Letter to Pearson 20152ndFrPreEle

Little slush funds everywhere

When I went to pick up my long awaited Pearson reports, I also asked for the general election reports for Higgins, Calci and Pearson for UPT (“HCP”).  All of the reports were available to me on April 3 except for HCP’s annual report due 12/31/17.  In lieu of that, the County gave me the letter notifying the HCP campaign committee treasurer of the past due reports and the fine due.

The next day I received an email from Voter Services informing me that the annual report for HCP had —coincidentally!—just been received, as well as payment for their fine.  I received those reports and a copy of the check (by my request) on 4/5.

The campaign finance documentation for the 2017 HCP campaign is noteworthy mostly for what is missing.

Fall EventsThe Democrats held several campaign events at local venues and advertised that refreshments would be served at each event.  There are no expenses listed for these events except for “picnic food” for the June 3 picnic at the John Pearson’s bar, the Fitzwater Station.

Notably, one of these events was held at Barrister’s Bagels, which is owned by Joe Welsh, the newly elected district justice for district for 38-1-19.

Regardless, none of these venues allow random folks to hold events there free of charge, let alone with refreshments supplied by the venue.

I get that these Democrat business owners are doing favors for their fellow Democrats. But, again, the whole point of campaign finance laws is transparency: who is donating dollars and services to the cause of getting a candidate elected and how much are they donating?  These events should have been listed as “in-kind” donations, which are services that have been donated but have a monetary value.  The treasurer correctly included Helene Calci’s services as a graphic designer as an in-kind donation to the campaign while Laurie Higgins and her family got reimbursed for every penny they put towards the election.

090917 Meet and Greet Barristers BagelsWhy didn’t the events at the Towne Center Bookstore, Limerick Bowl, Barrister’s Bagels or The Fitzwater Station merit an in-kind donation entry on the campaign’s reports?

By all appearances, these Democrat-owned businesses act as little slush funds for Democrat candidates to rotate amongst themselves.  This practice is decidedly not transparent.

The fine levied against HCP for filing their campaign finance reports late was paid out of campaign funds.  This is strictly forbidden and it is noted, in bold italics, on the notice of fine sent by Voter Services: fineblurbI will be following up with Voter Services on the disposition of this issue later this week.

As a side note, a few weeks ago, we noted the endangered “livliehood” (sic) of Upper Providence Tax Collector, Julie Mullin, due to her wide-eyed and purely altruistic involvement in politics.  Our tax collector has lamented on Facebook about having to use her own “out-of-pocket” funds to perform her exhaustive service to the public, all while she’s trying to put two kids through college.  As a Republican Committee woman, do you think she knows that the children she’s working so hard to support collectively gave $500 to the Higgins, Calci and Pearson campaign?

 

043017 HCP campaign expense report PE17 2nd Fri pre-primary

053117 HCP 30-day post primary 2017 (1)

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Upper Providence Worst

When she is not opening envelopes, the Upper Providence Tax collector is very busy indeed.  Up until he took his hack job with Josh Shapiro, Julie Mullin was the campaign treasurer for former state representative Mike Vereb.  She is also the treasurer for Montgomery County Republican Women’s Leadership, a position took on at the beginning of last year after joining the organization just a few months prior. For some strange reason, none of the long-standing members of MCRWL can explain how exactly she landed in that position.

mullin fbMullin was also instrumental in establishing the political action committee, Upper Providence First.  She, along with John Pearson, Jim White, and Bill Kasper, was a passionate advocate for expanding the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors from three to five members and she served as treasurer for that PAC.   She still runs Upper Providence First’s faux community Facebook page.

It was unsurprising to me that the campaign finance reports for Upper Providence First were also missing some expenses.  As the group was outwardly hostile to me, I filed an RTK for the “vouchers,” which are essentially all of the receipts of the campaign’s expenditures.  Upon receiving these receipts, via email, I was told by Mullin that I should have just asked her directly for them.  I responded that yes, in retrospect, that probably would have been the best course of action, so while we have this dialog open, can you confirm I have received everything?  Are you sure there is nothing more?  To this request, I received a response from the PAC chairman, Jim White, who rather ungraciously told me to take my petty requests and file another RTK.

upt1My concern was that there were no expenditures listed for Election Day: hundreds of four-color glossy, double sided handouts, five 3’ x 5’ vinyl signs, and buttons for all of the Upper Providence First poll workers.

Why were these expenditures omitted?  Why were they a secret?  When I brought these concerns to the Upper Providence Republican Committee Municipal Leader, the answer he got from Mullin and White was that the print shop they were using to print the November 2016 Election Day handouts was “holding back” the invoice pending a “huge campaign for Township Supervisor” in the spring of 2017.  While this excuse doesn’t come close to passing the smell test, it does have the virtue of exposing the motivations behind the expansion of the board of supervisors.

On May 16, 2017, Mullin filed an additional campaign finance report for Upper Providence First showing a balance on hand of $991.34 and an unpaid expense of $1,690.70 for postcards and banners due to Work House Signs of Pottstown.  To my knowledge, this bill remains unpaid.

Interestingly, the printer who printed the Upper Providence First mailer (which was identical to the Election Day handout, above) was Unlimited Graphics, out of Trappe.  Why wouldn’t Upper Providence First use the same printer for handouts as they used for mailers?  Does Work House Signs even do paper printing?  It does not appear so.  Here is the “About us” from their website:

We are a full service sign company serving the tri-state area.  We specialize in indoor signage, vehicle wraps & lettering, dimensional signage, outdoor displays and a wide range of custom options for your next project.  We are confident that our representatives can assist you with your marketing efforts, from vehicle wraps to trade show advertising, banner stands, plaques and custom exterior signage – our business is to promote your business.

I’m not sure there are any small printers in the area willing to let a $1,690 bill ride indefinitely, but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Work House Signs is the one printer in the United States who really doesn’t need money.  Why wouldn’t Upper Providence First take the $991 on account and at least pay down the outstanding expense?  Why were the members of Upper Providence First unwilling to provide me with all of the expenditures, if not as part of the original RTK, then as part of my subsequent request when they told me to just ask them directly?  Why was there even a need to file an additional report?

As the elected Upper Providence Tax Collector, Julie Mullin is responsible for processing literally tens of millions of your tax dollars, yet it seems she cannot manage to file a straightforward campaign finance report or account for all of the expenditures for her extracurricular political interests.  Were the original reports compiled mistakenly, or were they willfully misrepresentative of the PAC’s finances?  Either way, the answer raises some disturbing questions about competency and transparency.

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Conclusion

Maybe you don’t care about campaign finance, and that’s fine.  Then ignore the Stormy Daniels story, because that’s the only pertinent issue in that whole mess.

Maybe you think this is all petty and nitpicky, and that’s fine too.  Just know that if you are prone to complaining about money in politics, there really is nobody minding the store, especially on the local level. Sure, they’ll fine the Candidate if they don’t receive his report, but nobody is really looking at those reports to make sure that the reporting is honest.

That’s up to you.

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

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

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

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

It’s like….you know….ehm….

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

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

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

Grandstanding on Trash Pickup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign Promise Fulfillment #1 – NIMBYism on the Board

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, John Pearson endorsed you?  What a surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad form, madam.  Very bad form.

Final thoughts

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

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

Unfortunately, this meeting was not encouraging in that regard.