It wasn’t widely publicized, but the Board met twice during the week of 9/17: the regular Board meeting of Monday, 9/17 and a joint meeting with Trappe Borough Council on 9/20. In fact, the only mention of the 9/20 Joint Meeting was as a housekeeping item at the end of the 9/4 meeting when the Board was asked to come up with some dates for this meeting.
While I have no doubt that this meeting was properly advertised, I found no notice posted on the Township’s Facebook page or on the News section of the Township’s website. An agenda was posted on the Township’s “Meetings and Agendas” page on September 19. It was, however, a public meeting held at the Trappe Borough hall and I attended that one in person. There is no video available for this meeting.
The primary purpose of this meeting was to discuss the regionalization of Fire and Emergency Services between Upper Providence Township and Trappe Borough.
Upper Providence and all of our neighboring municipalities are each supporting domiciled volunteer fire companies monetarily. However, Upper Providence funds three additional first-due fire companies (see HERE for details on fire funding in Upper Providence Township). The township has one domiciled fire company, the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company, which covers approximately 60% of the Township. The other 40% is covered by three other companies, as illustrated by this coverage map, below.
Trappe Borough Council was represented by Nevin Scholl, Scott Martin, Kathy Johnson, Brett Yeagley, Pat Webster, Phil Ronca and Stewart Strauss. Also in attendance for Trappe was Borough Manager Tamara Twardowski and Solicitor Dave Onorato, who also chaired the meeting.
Upper Providence was represented by the full Board: John Pearson, Helene Calci, Al Vagnozzi, Laurie Higgins and Phil Barker. Also in attendance for Upper Providence were Solicitor Joe Bresnan, Manager Tim Tieperman and Assistant Manager Bryan Bortnichak.
Agenda is below:
John Pearson sets the Tone
Onorato began the meeting by going around the dais and asking each member to introduce themselves and briefly state what it is they hoped to get out of this meeting. John Pearson was the first elected official to speak.
Pearson stated his reason for being there was to facilitate the creation of one regional Fire and EMS service company.
Perhaps it will come as a surprise to some readers, but Pearson has been touting regionalization of our FEMS for quite some time. As readers may recall, Pearson served with me until December 2015, and during all that time, he demonstrated little patience or support for the BRVFC, and any problems the Township had working with them were usually answered by Pearson with a dismissive suggestion that we needed to regionalize this service. He had little interest in actually doing any of the heavy lifting to accomplish this, or solve any of the problems; it was more like he thought of regionalization as a way to relieve the Township of some of this responsibility. I always assumed Pearson did not want to be bothered with FEMS and indeed, his relatively new, documented coziness with the BRVFC is something that only developed after his defeat in the 2015 election and his subsequent efforts with Upper Providence First to expand the Board.
As they say, politics makes strange bedfellows, and now that he has accomplished his objective of getting elected, there seems to be little reason for continuing to stick his neck out for the BRVFC. The surprise here is not that this alliance appears to be falling apart; the surprise is that it existed in the first place and lasted as long as it did.
I can only imagine the reaction to this change in direction.
As they went around the dais, it was clear that all representatives from both municipalities were on board with this idea.
It should be noted that although this regionalized approach to Fire and EMS Services is on the UPT Board’s milestones, approved at the 4/16 meeting, regionalization was not scheduled until “Phase 3,” which was not anticipated to be addressed for another 3 to 5 years. In my opinion, it is smarter to look at regionalization sooner rather than later, and I was pleased to not only see the UPT Board taking this step, but to see them acting unanimously on matters of public safety for a change.
For what it’s worth, regionalization discussions with Trappe, Royersford and Collegeville had already started to take place under my leadership in the summer of 2017, given that a regional approach, especially for Upper Providence, who supports four, first-due fire companies, is the only logical long-term solution for the challenges in the delivery of public safety. The growing tension is in efficiently and effectively providing Fire and EMS services with rapidly dwindling volunteerism and while not breaking the bank. Regionalization is the best solution for tackling these objectives.
Discussion of the Problems
Scholl outlined some of the financial and infrastructure problems that Trappe Borough is facing with regards to the Trappe Volunteer Fire Company, to wit: Trappe VFC is operating out of 100-year-old building and their ladder truck was purchased circa 2000. And unsurprisingly, like every other volunteer fire company across Pennsylvania, they are experiencing a decline in volunteerism.
At this, Pearson asks Trappe VFC Chief Brian Long, who was in the audience, how many volunteer there are at Trappe. Long gives a refreshingly honest answer: they pull from about 15 to 20 regular volunteers.
Vagnozzi notes that Upper Providence has experienced significant growth in population in the center of the Township in the last 20 years. These are the areas that were traditionally farmland prior to the development boom. He also notes that because there is no centrally located firehouse in the township, it is this area that has experienced the most significant fire losses in recent years. When the Oaks and Mont Clare fire compaies were established over 100 years ago, they were built where the population centers were at that time. He states that you have to build a firehouse where the volunteers are and, referring to a map (to which the public was not privy) notes that many of the Trappe Volunteers live either within Upper Providence’s boundaries, or in close proximity to the proposed new firehouse location at 113 and Hopwood.
Vagnozzi also states that the Fire and EMS divisions of Trappe VFC must separate their financial statements; fire and ambulance must each create separate P & L statements and balance sheets. Currently Trappe VFC’s financials are blended and in order to move forward there can be no commingling of funds; the municipalities must have a definite idea of the profit and loss of each organization.
There is enthusiastic agreement around the dais to this suggestion.
Because no meeting of the Upper Providence Township Supervisors is complete without taking a detour for a lesson in Township Supervisor 101, Calci takes this opportunity to ask Trappe Borough Council how Trappe Ambulance gets their money.
Why doesn’t she already know this????
I realize I’ve been pretty brutal on the Upper Providence Board for what I view as their continuing refusal to come prepared to a Board meetings, but this question not only betrays a willful ignorance, but glaring irresponsibility to her duties as a Township Supervisor. How could Helene Calci have possibly cast an informed vote on 4/16/18 deciding how EMS services are delivered in the Township if she still doesn’t have a basic understanding of how the ambulance companies are funded?
Wasn’t that the crux of the Democrats’ argument in favor of the lame medic responder unit? That putting an ambulance in Upper Providence would have a negative financial impact on the companies currently servicing the Township?
Wasn’t Calci the a member of the Board’s subcommittee tasked with studying this issue for the first three months of the year?
Finally, before casting her vote on the ambulance, wasn’t it Calci who read the following prepared (and vetted) statement into the record:
After an exhaustive 360 degree look at fire and EMS, the staff including Tim Tieperman, Bryan Bortnichak, and Josh Overholt, came up with a comprehensive presentation for the residents and supervisors of Upper Providence Township. They spoke with subject matter experts from within out Township, such as Oaks Fire Station President Joe LoCasale and the various EMS agencies that serve the area. They collaborated with experts outside of our township, such as Cheltenham Township and Montgomery County, even reaching up to the state level to make sure what they were representing and bringing to us was on track and made sense for our situation. These discussions helped formulate forward thinking solutions for the increasing emergency services needs for our residents. A matrix was created scoring the various solutions. The dashboard scoring points us to the best recommendation for the Township, which I am voting in favor of. As conditions change, such as an increase in call volume, enough to support an additional ambulance, we will re-evaluate the fire and EMS situation. I want to take this moment and thank the many people who worked hard in order to provide me with the information to vote on this resolution. We are fortunate to have such competent staff.
Look, I understand asking questions at a meeting in order to get clarity or better understand an issue. But upon review of the meetings leading up to and including the Board’s vote on the Township’s Fire and EMS milestones on April 16, Helene Calci did not ask a single question about how the ambulance companies were funded.
Yet she cast her vote on this issue based solely on ambulance financing, a concept of which she clearly does not have a thorough understanding.
Apparently, Trappe Borough Council has no time to provide this week’s lesson and the meeting moves right along.
Scholl insists that Ambulance and Fire should continue to solicit subscriptions/donations after the merge.
Barker points out that there will be a tax impact to both municipalities if/when they decide to move forward to 24/7 paid crews. And the implementation of a tax could impact the companies’ ability to solicit donations.
Vagnozzi says that the new firehouse will require changes to be made in first due responses.
How will this be managed by the municipalities?
Council and Board discussed three primary options for managing the intermunicipal cooperation. The options are summed up below, in order of municipal control:
Trappe Borough and Upper Providence Township fund the new building; Trappe VFC relocates to the new building in Upper Providence and shares the space with Upper Providence’s paid staff. Black Rock Fire Company would continue to operate out of the Oaks Station. All companies operate independently.
Each home municipality adopts a new ordinance that operates under on entity under control of Upper Providence Township. Black Rock Fire Company merges into the Trappe VFC/Township organization.
Create a legal entity called a “Cooperation of Governments” or “COG” so that both the Borough and the Township have control and provide direction for the new regional fire company.
A general discussion ensued, with option 1 being almost immediately dismissed as lacking in vision. Vagnozzi stated it was little more than picking up Trappe VFC and moving it to Upper Providence Township.
Options 2 and 3 with regard to the level of municipal control, as well as the fire command structure, were discussed at length. A flavor of that discussion follows:
As an example of a COG, Scholl cited the Collegeville-Trappe Public Works and Water Company.
Vagnozzi urged those present not to overcomplicate this and Webster responded by asking him to keep an open mind on the COG. She said that her vision for this option would be to provide high level oversight. As elected officials, they have the right and the responsibility to demand accountability as to how taxpayer dollars are being used. Ronca proposed that with a reliable stream of income, these organizations could operate differently. Johnson noted that the Fire and EMS guys just want to fight fires and respond to emergencies. If the municipalities are providing resources, then they should also provide oversight. Barker stated that the organization would be regulated through joint meetings with a set of standards, and Pearson noted that the Upper Providence Recreation Committee grew out of an existing COG.
Vagnozzi countered the COG discussion by pointing out that the paid staff, which will also service Trappe Borough through the new regional organization, are employees of Upper Providence. His vision is to decide on a capital contribution from Trappe to offset the cost of the new building and determine an annual operational contribution as well. Upper Providence will unavoidably be absorbing most of the costs of this proposal.
A need to involve the volunteer fire companies was discussed, and Barker suggested perhaps a return to the old FEMS committee if there is one company.
Scholl noted that if the companies do not blend, there could simply be separate cost centers for Trappe VFC, BRVFC and the Township staff.
Barker notes that this meeting represents a change in course for the Township’s previous direction with BRVFC.
Bresnan states that currently the volunteer organizations are completely independent from the municipalities except for workers’ compensation insurance. Bortnichak adds that the volunteer entities can still remain independent and Bresnan says the municipalities can provide oversight of all organizations, and if they are unsatisfied with how they are operating, the municipalities can withhold funding.
Calci wants to know if the Fire Chief will have control over the entire organization, and Bortnichak, who is apparently still operating from those “Draft” documents that supposedly “nothing has been done with,” instead of the Township’s Chapter 85, which designates “Chief,” says that the Director of FEMS would write and enforce the policies with Onorato adding that each company would continue to operate independently, a united fire company with two different command structures. Barker says that the municipalities need to have some control.
While nothing was decided on the ultimate structure of the regional organization, in my opinion Upper Providence does not improve their position in keeping three separate fire companies, each with their own command structure. The whole point of regionalization is to combine resources and gain economies of scale; maintaining three different companies (Trappe VFC, BRVFC and Upper Providence Township), with three different command structures, simply continues the status quo from the Township’s perspective. The Township gains nothing unless a true regionalized solution is adopted, under a single command structure.
And, as was demonstrated earlier this year, having the Township’s paid Chief of FEMS (or Director of FEMS, or whatever it is they are calling Overholt’s old position this week) enforce Township policy is ineffective at best, especially if the politicians are involved. The regional solution needs to be set up like the police department, with one chief empowered to enforce policy and a command structure under him for day-to-day operations and the municipalities providing high level oversight and budgetary approval.
It also has not been decided if BRVFC will be part of the new regionalized company, and if so, if it will continue to operate out of Oaks.
Board and Council members agreed to get feedback from their respective fire companies and reconvene for another meeting. They also decided to create a subcommittee consisting of two elected officials from each municipality, the Managers and the solicitors. They also agreed to engage an attorney specializing in mergers and regionalization of Fire Companies.
The 9/17 meeting was notable primarily for its brevity, which clocked in at a mere 40 minutes: a record for this Board in spite of the many starts and stops to educate them on matters that were either procedural or otherwise included in their packet.
Bumper Sticker Philosopher
As usual, Pearson starts out the meeting with his typical ego indulgence, reading a little tale which contains all the profundity one can usually glean from a bumper sticker or a meme on the internet. Believe it or not, even though they have nothing whatsoever to do with the business of the Township, these banal stories are actually reflected into the official minutes of the meeting. At least Pearson’s time wasting is on the record for all posterity.
I usually refrain from commenting on the actual content of these hackneyed little vignettes, but I found this particular bit of dime-store philosophy a little offensive. It’s entitled “Find Happiness,” and it’s about a bunch of meeting attendees who are asked to find their names on a bunch of balloons; needless to say, they cannot find their correct balloons until they all work together.
The lesson of this story, according to Pearson:
And this is the purpose of human life: the pursuit of happiness.
So Pearson, from the lofty heights of his folding chair at the Oaks Firehouse, is not only pontificating about what the purpose of human life is, but is stating that the sole purpose of human life is mere hedonism.
This empty philosophy may explain a great deal about Pearson’s own life. But it also aptly demonstrates why winning an election does not qualify him preach life advice to the rest of us in the form of vapid little morality tales. Another version of the story ends on a somewhat less nihilistic tone:
And this is one of the purposes of human life…
Learn to put a smile on someone’s face, and you will also smile in due season.
I like this one better. I doubt Pearson can tell the difference between the two.
The Board tables resolution number 2018-66. Pearson does not explain what this resolution is, but a perusal of the minutes and the attached Board packet reveals that it is a resolution for a Budget Amendment to fix the Ashenfelter Road Bridge. Recall Pearson complained about spending money on this project at the June 18 meeting. The Resolution itself contains no dollar amount, but the proposal from the Township’s Engineer, Gilmore and Associates, includes a quote for $119,850 and a proposal from CKS Engineering services for $85,500. These quotes are for engineering alone and do not include construction.
It is unclear why this resolution was tabled.
Remedial Municipal Governance
The five lot development plan for 239 Grace Street is back before the Board. The plan is going to the Zoning Hearing Board to file for special exception relief for steep slopes on the property and a variance for the width of the driveway to the cul-de-sac on one of the lots.
Once again, it seems the Board is caught not doing their homework. Pearson is confused and asks whether they need to come before the Board for this relief first. Bresnan steps in to the rescue, explaining that the only reason the developer is before the Board this evening is for the Board to determine whether they want to send the Solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board to oppose the application.
It’s actually painful watching the Board blunder through this agenda item, as it seems no routine matter before this Board is TOO routine for Pearson and Calci to feel any reluctance whatsoever to just stop the proceedings and ask for a re-education of the process.
I would remind readers that this is John Pearson’s third term in office, and that his longtime fiancée, Gail Latch, is on the Zoning Hearing Board. One would presume, at a minimum, that he would have the basics of the process down. Pearson is clearly caught off guard as to what his responsibilities here actually are. Perhaps in an effort to look more engaged than he actually is, he starts fumbling through some half-baked questions about rain gardens and drainage, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the relief the applicant is requesting.
Higgins’ questions, again, are relevant to the matter before them and again, I commend her for at least doing her homework before sitting down at the dais.
Calci, in an effort at damage control, blames the whole thing on Barker, who is not there, stating that it was Barker who wanted to see these applications come before the Board.
This is true; however, this procedure was only implemented because of the lack of Staff meetings, the discontinuation of which created a hole in staff communications with the Board. The Board had previously reviewed these matters during Staff meetings and the tension here seems to be to keep the regular board meetings to a reasonable length of time while still keeping the Board informed of pertinent matters. Barker’s request on this was wholly reasonable; that the Board should know about matters going before the ZHB in case the Board decides that the Township wants to oppose it.
Recall also that the Board sent the Solicitor to oppose such a zoning application last year for the Cellco Tower. Upon taking office earlier this year, Pearson quickly reversed the previous Board on this matter, preferring instead to let the ZHB “do their thing,” a policy of which Bresnan reminds them before the end of this segment.
It should be noted that the Board is provided with a bi-weekly Manager’s newsletter, presumably highlighting and explaining these issues. If perhaps the Board didn’t need to take regular time-outs for Township Supervisor 101, maybe the meeting length could be more reasonable. In other words: Do your homework.
And lest we forget, Pearson is still presumably conducting his Secret Monday Morning Meetings (with one other Board member) when he gets briefed on all of the issues before the Board. Perhaps if it’s not a matter he can easily politicize, it just never really gets on his radar.
Intersections of Ignorance
The Board approved the Act 209 Land Use Assumptions report as recommended at an earlier public hearing. The next steps in implementing the ACT 209 plan are traffic study, then cost estimates of improvements then approval of impact fees, all of which need to be completed by July 2, 2019.
Lack of homework again evident: Calci, whose husband was appointed to the Act 209 committee that produced the report, betrays a lack of fundamental understanding of how the ACT 209 program will work, as far as which road improvements will be funded by monies received for this program. Pearson asks the same question only a few minutes later and Higgins asks if bridges can be included. Once again, the Board takes a time out to have the Township Consultant –and Vagnozzi–provide a lesson to Calci and Pearson on public time.
I understand that all three Democrats attended the public hearing on the report that took place immediately prior to this Board meeting, where they all had the opportunity to ask these questions as well.
Not to mention that this can all be covered at the secret Monday Morning Meetings.
Hello darkness, my old friend…..
Pearson read into the record the following letter from Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company:
Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company understands the concerns of the local residents related to the fire company’s house siren. After the September 4 Supervisor’s meeting, officers of the fire company spoke with members of the community to assure them that the issue is being addressed and they understood the concern with sleep deprivation. The fire company has investigated expanding the use of voice and digital pagers, but there are areas where our members work that the signal does not penetrate. Example: Concrete buildings, facilities with electronic shieldings.
Effective Sunday, September 16, the house siren was turned off, with the caveat that if the fire fighter response is negatively impacted due to a lack of a siren, the fire company will re-evaluate the decision to turn off the siren. The residents need to understand that the fire fighters also suffer from sleep deprivation caused by the emergency calls to which they must respond during the evening hours. The fire company is working with the Township to provide 24-hour in station staffing that will eliminate the need for the house siren. Currently, there is in-station staffing from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, Monday through Friday [Note: This in-station staffing is provided by the Township’s paid staff] and this will expand to 6am to 6pm in January, 7 days a week [Note: This expansion of hours is also proposed to be the Township’s paid staff per the 4/4 meeting]. The fire company also has a live-in program from 10 pm to 6 am at its Mont Clare station. Additional volunteers are being recruited to staff the Oaks station from 10 pm to 6 am. The fire company has mentioned to various residents that they could use assistance with various technologies, finance, and general building maintenance, but unfortunately, the response has been limited at best. If you have an hour a week to support the fire company, please contact them and volunteer your time. Thank you.
Other Board Business
The Board awarded a bid to BRB Contractors for 464 East Linfield Trappe Road demolition project.
The Board authorized advertisement of bids for the Second Avenue sanitary sewer pump station force main replacement project. Pearson notes that it is good for the Township that we only have two pump stations.
The Board approved a Utility Relocation Reimbursement Agreement with PennDOT for the Second Avenue culvert replacement project force main relocation. PennDOT is reimbursing the Township 100% for this project.
The Board set November 5, 2018 for a Public Hearing to consider a Conditional Use Hearing for the Residences at Providence Town Center. These are the apartments that are proposed behind Wegman’s/Providence Town Center.
The Board concurs that the traffic light at Egypt Road and route 29 should be made permanent and agrees to pursue a Green Light Go grant to pay for that.
Township Planner Geoff Grace would like to have a meeting for a Comprehensive Plan subcommittee on September 24.
Joint Meeting with Trappe Borough Council
Unmentioned at the end of this meeting, or on the Township’s Facebook page, or on the Township’s “News” section of the Township website, is the September 20 joint meeting with Trappe Borough Council. This meeting took place at Trappe Borough Hall. An agenda was posted to the Township’s website on September 19.
This meeting will be the subject of a separate post.
Welcome to part 2 of the September 4 Board of Supervisors Meeting held at the Oaks Firehouse on Greentree Road.
I’d start off this post with a copy and paste of a fluffy little anecdote from Chicken Soup for the Soul, but your time is valuable and I won’t waste it with a frivolous ego indulgence.
As mentioned in the previous post, we’re taking things out of order, so this second post is actually covering the first hour and a half of the meeting.
Bear with us for a moment during John Pearson’s interminable paper shuffling, while he gets his bearings to run this meeting. It seems like it’s always a surprise to him to find himself in charge.
We’ll pick things up right after Pearson finishes butchering the names of the Community Day sponsors.
During public comment, a number of neighbors from the Greentree neighborhood approach the Board to ask their assistance in getting BRVFC to turn off the outside siren. The intent of the neighbors to address this issue was telegraphed via the flyer below, which was also posted on NextDoor Oaks.
The first resident is David Lauser, who states that he wrote a letter to each of the Board members back on June 21 to asking to evaluate the necessity to the fire siren and eliminate it if possible. Lauser does not reiterate his points for the Board, but instead asks them for a response to his letter, since many of them have not responded.
Pearson answers that they received a letter from the BRVFC Chief that they are looking to silence it between 9pm in the evening and 6am in the morning.
Lauser asks if there is any justification for not eliminating it completely.
And because, up to this point, BRVFC policy is largely indistinguishable from Township policy, and because he hasn’t bothered to follow up on this issue independently, Pearson defers to BRVFC President Joe LoCasale to answer this question. LoCasale states that BRVFC has already reduced the number of cycles from 12 to 6; and that they have tried a number of different ways of alerting their members; he claims that the technology they are using is not 100% reliable and that the siren is the most reliable way to notify members of an emergency call.
“I’m of the opinion that the technology does exist, that the need for this siren has passed. Many fire companies have turned it off. It’s beyond me how you can say that the siren is the most reliable way to summon firefighter to the firehouse for a fire. I’ve asked [BRVFC] about this [turning off the siren] and was basically told ‘It’s not happening,’ I’ve asked the leadership here and was told ‘It’s not going to happen.’ The folks here, they live right here, they are waking up during the night, [addressing Lauser] you, 26 years, many others who I can see are here in the audience. They live it every day. And the technology works, so I don’t know how you can now advocate to keep the siren running when most other fire companies have turned off—not all, but most—and I just have to come down on the side of the residents who live in very close proximity to this building, that you should turn it off.”
Calci asks Vagnozzi, “So what are the technologies that we don’t have that other places do have? Do you know Al?”
“We have the same technologies that every other fire company in Montgomery County has.”
“We currently have that?” Calci can’t believe it.
“We have the same technology that every fire company in Montgomery County has. We probably have the most advanced systems to notify our firefighters that there’s a fire. The siren is an emotional issue. It’s an emotional issue for the firefighters, and as a life member of a fire company, I can say it: It’s just emotional. These people live it every day. They are being woken up in the morning, in the middle of the night, can’t go back to sleep. I live on the other side of Wegman’s, and I can hear the siren. So, the technology exists, again, the minute emotion walks into the room, the ability to reason walks out of the room. I think we need the reason, and turn the siren off.”
In what is perhaps the most predictable statement of the year, Pearson then stammers through his 100% unquestioned support of LoCasale’s earlier statement on the necessity of the siren and says that their offer of shutting off from 9pm at night to 6am in the morning is “very accommodating.” Pearson then goes on to say:
“I think it’s bothersome, uhhhh…in the afternoons, of course, ummm… but I don’t think it’s waking anybody up, it’s not disturbing anybody’s sleep, unless, of course, they’re doing uhhhh…uhhhhh…a third shift type of a thing. Ummm…I, I have to go with ehhhh, with what, what ehhh, Black Rock is suggesting and ehhh that’s the direction on which I’m leaning on this thing. I don’t think we’re gonna take a vote on this thing this evening, I think it’s up to the, I’m not, I’m not really sure who’s responsibility it is.”
Vagnozzi interrupts and says, “We can’t take a vote; it’s not our siren.”
Pearson, “Well that’s what I’m getting at, wondering who’s responsibility it is, and I think that they’ve been very, very nice about doing this…but, Ma’am? Please?”
He then recognizes another resident, Heather Bitzer, for public comment.
She begins reading prepared remarks by reminding the Board that there are many ways of serving their community, and that many of the neighbors do just that as doctors, nurses, 911 dispatchers, police officers, etc. A lot of these folks work odd hours. She acknowledges that, yes, many of the folks knew the fire house was there when they moved in, and many of them have been there a decade or more. It then becomes apparent that Heather Bitzer has done her homework:
“So what has changed? Recently it has come to our attention that the use of the house siren, which we always assumed was a required piece of equipment widely used by all firehouses, is actually not mandated by any governing body or a recognized standard at all. Instead, it is a preference, based mostly on tradition, whose optional usage varies from house to house.
With that in mind, your neighbors ask the leadership of Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company that they consider to continue to best serve the needs of its volunteers and the community by modernizing and eliminating the use of the house siren. We ask you to consider your well respected and highly trained peers. We ask you to recognize the measurable, repeatable, fact-based evidence on record of the absolute excellence of the following surrounding companies who no longer use a house siren: Lower Providence, at both buildings, Royersford, Perkiomen Valley, Phoenixville, Limerick, Spring City Liberty, Norristown and Norriton, Trappe, who limits their usage to day time hours between 8am and 8pm, and Collegeville Borough, who is currently out of service with their siren due to construction, but when it’s operational, they limit their siren to daytime hours between 7am and 10pm.
These outstanding companies are the same as Black Rock; held to the same local, state and federal standards for calls, response time and redundant communication systems that are needed for backup. They serve the same community base, the same terrain, the same geography, in fact some of the volunteers even come from the same family, and arrive on scene to back up the Black Rock Fire Company at the same calls. To say that Black Rock cannot, or should not eliminate or amend its siren usage drastically is to say that these facts do not exist.”
After a brief meeting derailment regarding the spotted lanternfly, Vagnozzi circles back to the siren, noting that the Township cannot mandate what BRVFC does with their siren. Vagnozzi thinks they can do better than silencing it between 9pm and 6am and asks if BRVFC would consider silencing it between 8pm and 8am. It is unclear as to whether Vagnozzi gets any agreement on that. Since the siren went off at 6:50 am over the past weekend, my guess is no.
As usual, when the policy she’s supporting seems to fly in the face of logic, Calci seems to think this issue needs further study and, once again, asks what kind of technology the other fire stations are using. And once again, Vagnozzi says, “It’s the same.”
Barker adds, “I understand that Collegeville and Trappe only use their sirens during those times because they have a lot of college students that do not necessarily have that technology available to them.”
The next resident, Laura McAtee comes up and reiterates that many of the neighbors work odd hours (nurses and policemen) and the siren wakes them up when they have to sleep during the day. She says it’s hardest on the children, saying that it is very disruptive for children not being able to sleep through the night. She points out that children playing ball in the fields below are actually covering their ears in pain because of how loud it is.
The next resident is State Trooper Watkins, who directly contradicts Pearson’s earlier statement about not the siren not waking anyone up during daytime hours. Watkins says that the siren terrifies his children and is unequivocal in his assertion that the siren does cause problem for the community and the neighborhood.
Pearson stutters his response, “Thank you for your comments, and I’m, I’m, I’m sure that they’ll try to compromise and, and meet the needs of the neighbors….uhhh uhhh along with, you know…s-s-staying with their prac, their normal practices, so….”
Pearson, of course, does not ask BRVFC to turn off or limit their siren usage because Pearson is completely unaccustomed to making any accountability demands of this organization.
As residents approached the dais about the siren, it became increasingly obvious that the only opinions that Pearson had sought regarding the siren are those of BRVFC, because many of these residents arehaving issues with the siren and areindeed folks who keep odd hours: a nurse, a state policeman, people with young children and babies. Pearson hasn’t talked to any of the people who are asking for his help in negotiating for the quiet enjoyment of their homes.
On this issue, it is abundantly clear Pearson is only there to do the bidding of the fire company and his role is to sell the voting public on what BRVFC has offered in the way of “compromise” on this issue.
Just like the Cellco Cell Tower issue a few months ago, Pearson is not going to ask his political cronies to compromise their interests for the benefit of the residents of Upper Providence.
The Board heard a pre-development proposal from Pulte Homes for a zoning map amendment for 24 acres along Ridge Pike across the street from Target. Land use attorney Joe Kuhls states that all they are asking for is for the Township to accept the application. The proposal is to change the zoning from NCC Neighborhood Convenience, which is commercial zoning, to R3 zoning, which is residential zoning and allowing for approximately three units per acre. This proposal would most likely yield a townhouse development of approximately 96 units.
Vagnozzi, who is already cranky, wants to cut through most of the presentation.
Barker asks what exactly this application is, since his paperwork indicates that it is a zoning text amendment and not a zoning map change, as Kuhls originally said. Kuhls states it is a map amendment.
Township Planner Geoff Grace steps in and note that the applicant has not actually submitted an application because they wanted to take the Board’s temperature prior to submitting the application, a process that was previously handled in staff meetings.
The Developer’s planner begins by explaining that he believes that the NCC zoning is more for infill and that this parcel is the largest NCC parcel in the Township. Also, that demand for commercial development is very soft. In my opinion, this soft demand for commercial space is the primary reason for the request for the zoning change.
We now interrupt this meeting for an important word about zoning map changes: Near the end of my term in 2017, I met with the Township Planner and the Assistant Manager and we went over the remaining undeveloped parcels in the Township, as we were receiving many of these types of rezoning requests; either to change a commercial space to dense residential or to increase the density of an existing residential parcel. I told them that I would be opposed to all zoning change applications until we had some idea of how the Parkhouse parcel was going to develop.
These proposed zoning changes add residents to our township and those new residents will all require municipal services and infrastructure to support them. As this Pulte presentation demonstrates, a landowner or developer can simply approach the Board and ask that the zoning for the parcel be changed. It is entirely at the Board’s discretion whether this request gets granted.
At this time, the future of Upper Providence is punctuated with a giant, 220 acre question mark in the form of the land surrounding Parkhouse. When Montgomery County sold this open space in 2014, it threw our entire comprehensive plan into disarray, as these 220 acres were never contemplated to be anything other than Open Space. Though it is still zoned Open Space, with an institutional overlay, it can still, by rights, be used for an assisted living or another residential continuing care facility, and the development under the institutional zoning can be quite dense.
It should also be noted that as part of a cleanup of our zoning ordinances, in the summer of 2013, the Township changed the zoning on all publicly owned parcels to Open Space. The underlying zoning on the Parkhouse parcel was changed from R1 residential (one unit per acre) to Open Space. This happened immediately prior to the County announcing the parcel was for sale. And it should further be noted that the Montgomery County Commissioners fought the Township on the zoning change.
Without rehashing the entire tragic story of how those County Commissioners—Josh Shapiro, Bruce Castor, and Leslie Richards—and some of their cronies—-betrayed this community and the public trust by selling this Open Space, I have always believed that the sale of Parkhouse was all about the land from the beginning. Not knowing what the politically-connected owners of Parkhouse have planned for that space is a thought that keeps me awake at night. And knowing who is now in charge of the decision on this certainly doesn’t make me sleep any better. This Board has not exactly inspired confidence with their crony-benefitting decision making process thus far, and while there haven’t been many land development proposals before the Board this year, those land use decisions that have been heard have been utterly politicized by the Democrats.
Though great pains were taken to make it look like one, the Upper Providence First effort to expand the Board of Supervisors from three to five members was never a grass roots effort, nor was it intended to give residents more of a voice in their community, as King Pearson has so aptly demonstrated this year. Instead, that effort was designed to dilute the voices of the sitting Board members, should the wrong members get elected. It’s fairly obvious in both Democrat and Republican political circles in Upper Providence that Pearson’s buddy, fellow Upper Providence First member, and former “Republican” candidate for Township Supervisor, Bill Kasper, was supposed to be sitting where Laurie Higgins is now, with Kevin Holohan proving he was far to mercenary for any side to fully embrace.
Nor did the Upper Providence First group simply dissolve once the five-member board was passed, either. These folks still meet for Quizzo at the Fitz, sip Chardonnay at “outstanding” “Make Upper Providence Great Again” parties and gleefully post about it all over Facebook. These are the folks who backed Pearson (and then his Girls® when Kasper lost the primary, because Higgins and Calci were deemed –and have proven to be–controllable by Pearson) and they continue to pull his strings to this day. Residents who are worried about the future of that 220 acres surrounding Parkhouse should perhaps be concerned about just who it is that is ultimately holding Pearson’s strings, because it strains credibility that those puppet masters expended all of that effort to put Pearson in power simply to provide Pearson with an opportunity for his own petty personal score settling. The puppet masters have an agenda of their own and that day of reckoning is coming.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled meeting.
Barker notes that there really aren’t any residential developments with frontage on Ridge Pike and asks if it would be possible to maintain the commercial frontage on Ridge and keep the residential to the rear of the property. The developer explains the challenges of the wetlands in the property and says the frontage is only about 800 feet and reiterates the problems stemming from the soft commercial market. He claims any commercial pad site put out there would just “flounder.” Barker also notes that there have been bad experiences with townhouse developments, parking and storm water management elsewhere in the Township, some of which were with Pulte.
Pearson tells the developer to start the process.
Not so fast; Higgins has something to say: “Your proposal said there were no negative impacts to the Township, but a couple of things I’d like to know is, what is the benefit to the Township? How is this going to actually add value to the Township? Also, I don’t think that the layout and the design of the homes is very creative, imaginative, new and different; they look like cookie cutter townhomes that you see everywhere and I’d like to see something different than the same old, same old.”
When the attorney for the developer states that they will walk the Board through the process and define the impacts, Higgins stops him and says, “Well again, what I’m looking for is an added benefit to the Township, not necessarily what the impact is. I understand what the impact is, I read your thing, it’s less impact in townhomes in terms of traffic, etc., but I’m looking for the good stuff. What’s the good stuff? What’s the benefit to the Township that’s going to bring value to the Township in general? And I’d like to see more thoughtfulness and creativity and inventiveness and vision regarding the whole development in terms of layout, in terms of individual design of the townhomes. I don’t currently see any amenities in this particular sketch plan right now, and there’s no secondary access as you have it right now. So those are the four things that concern me. But I’m, in general, not opposed.”
Credit where credit is due: I have to give Laurie Higgins props for these questions. This is exactly what she is supposed to be doing. I don’t necessarily agree with all of her comments, but she clearly did her homework on this development.
Half a million dollar hookup
Township Engineer Bill Dingman presents a proposal for a public sewer extension for 10 homes on Old State Road, between Yeager and Hafner Roads. This extension will cost approximately $440,000; approximately $76,000 would be assessed to the individual properties, with the balance to be funded through the Township’s sewer fund. Construction would be in late 2019 if the Board decides to move forward.
Vagnozzi asks if the residents are required to hook up and Dingman says no. Vagnozzi wants to know if they could put a time limit on that and Dingman responds that the planning module can be modified to include that.
Still cranky, Vagnozzi says if it’s going to cost the Township a half a million dollars to run sewer to ten homes, then the Township needs to re-evaluate making hook-ups optional. “We should at least require them to hook up within a certain period of time, because it’s the Township’s money; it’s everyone in the audience’s money.”
In response to a question from Calci, Dingman estimates it would cost a resident approximately $20,000 in assessment, tapping fees, and plumbing to hook up to the sewer.
Three residents have indicated an interest in hooking up so far and Barker suggests a communication be sent to the affected residents outlining the plan and the potential costs to the residents for hookup.
Calci asks what the incentive would be for anyone to hook up if they are not required and Dingman says that it is unusual for a township not to require hookup.
Barker suggests that the Board hold a meeting with the affected residents, much like they did with the Borough Line, Lewis Road sewer job.
The sewer issue is eventually tabled for further discussion.
The Board voted to engage Field Goals US to conduct a recreation needs study for the Township. This survey will cost up to $57,690 and is a direct result of the Board’s hasty decision to shut down the Township’s fitness center at Anderson Farm Park.
Recall that the Board had no idea what they wanted to do instead of the fitness center, so now they will be spending up to $57,690 of your tax dollars to figure that out.
Other Board Business
The Board watched a presentation from the Chester County Planning Commission regarding Phoenixville Region Multi-Modal Transportation study.
The Board approved the amended MS4 storm water plan.
Pearson directed the Township Manager to set an adoption date for the revised administrative code.
The Board voted to spend $1,144.14 to acquire a sanitary sewer easement at 713 Second Ave.
The Board agreed to waive SEI’s special events fee of $75.
The Board approved a settlement stipulation for an assessment appeal of a property in the Township. The re-assessment was driven by the School district, who will collect $144,000 on the settlement. By contrast, the Township will receive an additional $760 for 2016 and 2017.
The Solicitor asks the Board to approve a settlement on a personnel matter, which they end up tabling. The matter was already discussed in executive session, but Pearson never turns down an opportunity to have a legitimate executive session.
Township Planner Geoff Grace notes that the proposed apartment development behind Wegmans will be on the Planning Commission agenda for September 10. Grace notes there is quite a lot of interest in this development and that the developer has submitted revised plans. Pearson asks if the Planning Commission will be meeting at the Oaks Firehouse, and Grace confirms that they will. “That’s good,” says the guy who didn’t see a need for a bigger municipal meeting hall, “so they will have enough room in the audience for them.”
And now you know the rest of the story.
The next regularly scheduled Board meeting will be held, once again, at the Oaks Fire Hall on September 17 at 7pm.
The last fifteen minutes of this meeting are the subject of another post, which can be found HERE.
It’s been a month since the Board last met, having cancelled their second meeting of August. This meeting is at the Oaks Firehouse, and appropriately enough, starts and ends with the discussion of FEMS. We’re going to take things a bit out of order and start at the end. There is a lot to cover here, and I am going to split this meeting up into two posts, simply because the last fifteen minutes deserve especially close scrutiny.
This first post will examine those last fifteen minutes, which are a direct result—according to John Pearson himself—of the RTK I filed in June, received in July and published in August (see HERE for details of RTK).
We pick up the meeting at 1:32.
Be Careful what you ask for
When we last left our Board of Supervisors, Board Chairman John Pearson issued an assignment for all of the Supervisors to come up with comments for the end of the meeting. Regular readers may recall that your humble Blogress predicted that Pearson would probably regret this request.
Pearson asks for Supervisor’s comments and when Vagnozzi says, “Yes, I have a couple comments,” the three democrats whip their heads to the left to look at Vagnozzi.
Just inches from a clean getaway.
“During the course of the first eight months of this year, our Township has worked to resolve a number of public safety concerns as it relates to fire and emergency services. I’ve been in favor of some of the changes, however, I’ve been opposed to others. During the prior several years, Upper Providence Township made significant improvements to the delivery of fire services with the deployment of paid fire fighters during the daytime hours and were working toward developing a combination fire company with paid and volunteer staff. However, things are taking place in this community that some of the Supervisors are not aware of. As a result of a Right to Know request, actually by former Supervisor Lisa Mossie, hundreds of documents and attachments were released to the public. We, as Supervisors, were copied on them and I’ve reviewed the Right to Know request and I want to say that a number of things have happened that I am not and was not aware of, with planning that has been ongoing and that I do not agree with. I’m going to refer to one email in the Right to Know request. This is from Black Rock Fire Company President, Joe LoCasale to Bryan Bortnichak.”
Vagnozzi then reads the following email from the RTK—dated June 1, 2018—into the record:
Vagnozzi points out that this email is stating, very plainly, that plans were being made without the knowledge of he and Phil Barker. He also mentions two documents, the Collaborative Agreement (050118 Collaborative Agreement) and Attachment F (041618 Attachment F), and says he had no idea what these documents were.
Vagnozzi holds the two documents up, noting that the Attachment F is an Integrated Fire Company Organization document dated April 11, 2018. Please note: This document predates the approval of the milestones on April 16.
Vagnozzi then reads the highlighted paragraph from the document (below), which is “an attempt to change Chapter 85” the Township’s Fire and Emergency service ordinance.
“Now, what that means, if we agree to this, is that the Township is abdicating all control over the fire scene to the fire companies. And although our fire companies are extremely competent, we are duty bound as a Township to make sure that we have control of our fire and emergency services. That’s just like giving the Police Chief total and complete control without any of our authority. I will not, and I cannot even go in this direction. Ok, so my biggest problem is that I would have stopped this on April 11. I am one of five. And knowing that Phil Barker voted to change Act 85 last year to designate a Chief of Fire and Emergency Service, that leaves two people on this Board that will not support this. I don’t know if the other three, if you’ve read this…?
Calci quickly says, “I have not seen it,”
“Because it’s my understanding—and here’s the other thing—Laurie Higgins and Helene Calci, have also not been kept completely in the loop. You’ve gotten a lot of emails—more than I have—but my point is, this cannot stand, all right? The Township must maintain control of fire and emergency services, that’s the fire department, that’s the ambulance. It’s our duty to make sure that the services are delivered properly. And we love our volunteers and we love our first responders but they need to act under our direction at all times. We appreciate their help and provide funding for them and they do a great job, but ultimately, when it comes down to it, the Township is in charge. Thank you.”
“It’s only a DRAFT!!!”
After a beat of silence, Pearson’s first immediate reaction is to distance himself from the whole thing.
“Did you insinuate something there about me knowing what was going on there?”
When Vagnozzi says yes, Pearson’s second immediate reaction, and the one he sticks to, is to take yet another step away from ownership of this policy:
“Did you…uh…look at that thing you were reading from there? Did that say ‘Draft’ on it?”
What follows is an argument between Vagnozzi and Pearson, with Pearson insisting that the document is a draft and asking if anything has been done on it and Vagnozzi saying that the hundreds of documents in the RTK show the direction the Township was headed on Fire and EMS. When Pearson finally gets acknowledgement that the document is a draft, he wants to declare case closed, “Then that’s it. Nothing has been done on it.”
When Vagnozzi says, “There are many, many other documents, hundreds of documents and emails that show quite the contrary. Look, all I’m saying is that we are all one of five…”
Pearson then becomes completely unhinged. He interrupts, angrily pointing at Vagnozzi across the dais and says, “Al, are these your words, or are they coming from Lisa?”
Vagnozzi: “Lisa has nothing to do with this.”
Pearson: “Absolutely. You got her permission to do this?”
Vagnozzi: “I don’t need anybody’s permission, John. We received copies of this. It took me hours to figure this out.”
Then Calci says, “Figure what out, though? Nothing’s happened.” And then Pearson and Calci proceed to fall all over each other insisting that the document is a draft (it is indeed marked “draft” but we’ll explore what that may really mean below) and Calci says, “It’s a draft from last spring! Obviously, we didn’t move in this direction.” While Pearson is practically spitting, “Nothing’s happened! It’s a draft! It’s like…ehhhh…you know, nothing’s been done with it!”
Then Pearson starts yelling, “We haven’t taken any action on it yet! We haven’t gone in that direction! It’s a recommendation! It’s like…ehhh….”
Vagnozzi: “It’s a recommendation to the Board, but it hasn’t gotten to us. But it’s been seen. The emails were sent. To you.” This statement momentarily stops Pearson’s sputtering in its tracks. Vagnozzi then thanks BRVFC President Joe Locasale for suggesting that the Board involve Barker and Vagnozzi and tells the Board that the email was very revealing.
The only way Pearson can respond to this is with an outright lie.
“There is no intention to keep anyone on this Board out of anything.”
…a statement that cannot be answered with anything other than awkward silence. And that silence is broken by Calci stating that they have to work as a team for the Township.
Vagnozzi agrees and says that since early winter till late July, when all of the documentation came out, he has been kept in the dark. “I assure you, given my background, I am not, no longer staying in the background with delivery of public safety in the community.”
To which Calci snarkily responds, “Well as much as you want to be involved, be involved.”
Pearson, still angry, says, “You would not have been making an issue out of this unless Ms. Mossie hadn’t requested these Right to Knows.”
Vagnozzi immediately responds, “And I would have never seen it, either. Yes, I didn’t file the Right to Know, she filed it, we were all copied on it, and I spent hours going through it. Hours going through it. And found the issues.”
Barker then asks a critical question, “Who prepared the draft?” Pearson chuckles in disbelief. Pearson and Calci start repeating the question, looking around from help.
“Who prepared the draft? Who prepared the draft?” Calci says, shrugging. “I don’t know.”
Vagnozzi says, “I believe the fire company did.”
Phil asks again, directing the question to staff. Bryan Bortnichak responds that they got the document from Joe LoCasale. They believe he prepared the document.
The next awkward silence and paper shuffling moment is broken by Pearson reiterating his earlier lie: “Again, no one is trying to hide anything from anyone on this Board.”
Vagnozzi: “An attempt was made to have us abdicate our responsibilities.” He says that the Board cannot give up direct control over what goes on in this community. Which provokes uproar as the board begins talking over each other:
Calci: “Well, I don’t think anybody is. I’m not sure how you are getting that from a draft from April that Joe LoCasale wrote and we had nothing to do with it.”
Pearson: “No! I’m not giving up any authority of this Board.”
Higgins, “So you admit it’s a draft and it’s merely an idea that was proposed. It’s not final.”
Barker: “But who prepared it?”
Vagnozzi: “The document speaks for itself.”
Pearson: “It’s already been explained! But it’s like… it’s already been explained! Joe prepared it, like, it’s a DRAFT!”
Calci: “I’m not sure what you are trying to stir up. No one’s trying to take power from…”
Vagnozzi: “My point is, we haven’t been informed, and I was reading an example…”
Pearson: “Nothing’s been done and you have a copy of it. What’s the problem with it?”
Vagnozzi: “I had to go dig for it.”
Pearson: “You didn’t dig for it. Someone else dug it for you!”
With that outburst, Pearson declares the matter closed, but Supervisor Barker has just one more thing. Barker asks for all of the copies of the meeting minutes of the Steering Committee. Tieperman states that the meeting minutes are part of the weekly update they receive from him.
Calci, in what is perhaps the most disingenuous comment I have ever heard her make, says, “So then you really didn’t have to dig, I guess, if it was available.”
Tieperman clarifies, “Phil was asking about the minutes. I’ve made a point of including all of the steering committee meeting minutes in my manager highlight reports.”
Calci: “Are you all right with that, then Phil? Digging through the minutes?”
Barker: “Yes, as long as it’s communicated…”
Pearson interrupts: “Absolutely! Nobody is…AGAIN!…Nobody is trying to hide anything from anybody on this Board. Nothing!”
Pearson, desperate to get out of the meeting before more damage is done, asks for any other comments then reads possible meeting dates for a joint meeting with the Trappe Borough Council before adjourning to executive session.
What did we just see?
The documents in the RTK paint a very clear picture of an FEMS agenda that clearly excluded at least two of the current Board members. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence this year, as well as an outright admission by John Pearson, that the three Democrat Board members are meeting and deliberating outside of public Board meetings. The disregard for Sunshine Laws is almost passe at this point.
There are several points here that cannot be denied:
“My own personal time”
This is not the first time that Pearson has been called on the carpet for proceeding on Fire and Emergency services on his own. Recall at the May 21 Board of Supervisors meeting (HERE), when Pearson tried to increase the membership in the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night.
As was revealed in the RTK, this proposal was solely at the direction of BRVFC. The documents in the RTK reveal exactly why the Township’s Fire Chief, Josh Overholt, was being excluded from this committee. When it became clear that plans to remodel the Oaks Firehouse were already underway, Barker called him out on it.
Marty, set the flux capacitor for May, 21, 2018:
Reading from an email on his computer, Barker stated, “It’s saying here that they are finalizing the drawing of the career staff offices tomorrow….and bringing them…There’s things going on here that I wasn’t aware of until I got a copy of this email. They are moving on things that we haven’t approved and have no knowledge of, we don’t know who’s paying for this, who designed it…”
Pearson’s response: “They’re not moving…you know…first of all…it hasn’t costed us…first of all…we don’t…we don’t have to approve anything that they decide to do to their facility down there. We have to approve any monies that we expend, absolutely, uhmmm…but they’re not doing anything at this point in the game until this Steering Committee meets…these are all recommendations that uhhhh, that they’ve been making all along. Uhhhmmm, so it’s not, it’s not stuff that’s in the works, its stuff that’s been recommended at this point in the game. And uh, and again and I will remind everybody at this Board no matter what happens with this Steering Committee, they will be bringing it back to us, we will be making decisions on this, it will be, it will be in front of this Board, uhhhmm. Everything that goes on down there will be in front of this Board. Uhhhmm. I don’t see, I…I personally don’t see a need to throw another person in there.”
Barker, again referring to the email on his computer says, “So John, I’m just looking right here and it says, ‘to be built to facilitate the reallocation of space for the bunk rooms we need at the Oaks Station.’ Well, isn’t that part of the per diem firefighters [proposal]? Isn’t that part of our paid staff?”
Pearson: “The whole object is to set the, set the whole thing up there, and then, when we build the facility, we move what’s happening there up to the new facility so that everybody has a chance to integrate with each other, they’re uhhhm, all, all the career guys, the Black Rock, and, and the Public Works guys, they get a chance to integrate with each other, to work with each other and everything else in a real firehouse, uhhhhh setting, and then when this is, when the new facility is done, they will be moving the the, the whole concept up to the uhhhh new facility and that’s what, that’s what, basically, this is all about.”
To which Barker responds, “It just seems like you know a lot more about this than I do.”
Pearson acknowledges this: “I…I…I do. And that’s because I chose to sit in on…on a lot of these things, uhhhh, on my own personal time.”
So here we are in September, and Pearson is still denying that he, along with BRVFC, are directing FEMS policy not only without the approval of, but without even the knowledge of the rest of the Board.
There is no other way to put it: Pearson is lying when he says the Board is being informed of FEMS policy.
Policy is being written by BRVFC at the direction of John Pearson and with the authority of John Pearson
This one speaks for itself. The Collaborative Agreement spells this out in black and white.
This document declares, via King Pearson’s unilateral authority, that BRVFC is the primary service provider for Upper Providence Township.
Regardless of whether or not this was a DRAFT proposal or a “working document,” it cannot be denied that not only did Pearson give BRVFC the authority to create this document and further, that this document was created long before the creation of Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night, it clearly spells out how fire services will move forward. If I could quote from the May 21 meeting one more time:
“The whole object is to set the, set the whole thing up there, and then, when we build the facility, we move what’s happening there up to the new facility so that everybody has a chance to integrate with each other, they’re uhhhm, all, all the career guys, the Black Rock, and, and the Public Works guys, they get a chance to integrate with each other, to work with each other and everything else in a real firehouse, uhhhhh setting, and then when this is, when the new facility is done, they will be moving the the, the whole concept up to the uhhhh new facility and that’s what, that’s what, basically, this is all about.”
This statement is simply a restatement of of a paragraph from Attachment F, conveniently leaving out the bit about the BRVFC having command and the Township’s professionals being rolled into the BRVFC.
Why was this kept from the other members of the Board? Because it clearly was.
Almost all of the documents in the RTK predate the creation of the Steering committee.
The first meeting of Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night was held on June 6, 2018. The scope of the RTK included documents from January 1 through June 25 (the date of the RTK filing) and therefore only included minutes from three meetings.
Calci’s statement about how Barker does not need to “dig” for information since Tieperman is including Steering Committee meeting minutes in his weekly Manager’s Highlights report is ridiculous on it’s face. All of the heavy lifting on FEMS policy has been done prior to the creation of this farce of a steering committee and it is clear, that regardless of whether this “Collaborative Agreement” is a draft or not, that Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night is following the policy direction outlined in that document in implementing the milestones.
How would Barker and Vagnozzi have known otherwise?
How would Barker or Vagnozzi have known about any of this that is going on behind the scenes without a private citizen filing an RTK? As I stated in the post documenting the RTK (HERE), I filed this RTK almost as an afterthought, not really anticipating that it would reveal anything breath-taking, much less something as controversial as a proposal to abdicate Township authority on FEMS to a troubled volunteer fire company.
Doesn’t that seem to be leaving things a bit to chance?
The funny thing is that at the same time Pearson seems angry about this RTK, he’s claiming that Vagnozzi and Barker have nothing to complain about anymore since they now have the documents.
No thanks to him or his Girls®.
Tieperman communicates weekly with the Board of Supervisors. This major policy “proposal” was clearly omitted from his communiques (otherwise it would have been included in the RTK). Neither Tieperman, nor Bortnichak, has any authority whatsoever on their own to usurp Board authority and implement a major policy decision without the blessing of the Board.
It seems to me that this policy direction would have naturally been communicated by the Township Manager to the rest of the Board. Unless he was specifically directed not to.
Do Board members have to file their own RTK requests to the Township in order to be informed of what King Pearson is doing?
The RTK provides an answer as to why the BRVFC was not upset when the new Board did not restore their funding.
As I have noted often in the past, the Democrats on the Board of Supervisors ran for election on one primary issue: the previous Board’s funding cut to BRVFC. The Democrats sent two Township-wide emails hammering on this issue.
Yet, when they took office, the Democrats did not take advantage of their right to re-open the budget and restore Black Rock’s funding. I found this suspicious, especially since BRVFC Vice President (and former “Republican” candidate for Township Supervisor) Bill Kasper and his very politically acticve wife were particularly vocal about this issue on social media and were attending all of the meetings earlier this year while remaining oddly silent about the funding.
Apparently, BRVFC was playing a longer game, shooting for the whole bucket of funding rather than simply a restoration of their former share of the funding.
How could this have been be avoided?
There are a number of ways this ugliness could have been avoided, but first and foremost among them would have been the BRVFC’s compliance with Township safety standards and policies. As the only domiciled fire company within Upper Providence’s boundaries, it’s a foregone conclusion that had BRVFC met the Township’s standards, they would have been the Township’s primary service provider. From the Township’s Staff Prepared slides January 2018:
The Township is responsible for providing for the safety of the residents. It can enter into contracts with outside providers to provide those services, and when it does, the Township has not only the right, but the duty to demand that their contracted service providers operate within a set of Township-defined policies and standards, especially when those standards and policies help to ensure the safety of the public and the volunteers themselves. In return, the Township provides funding and workers’ compensation insurance.
One wouldn’t hire an electrician who ignores code. Or trust a doctor who operates outside of AMA standards. Or put their lives into the hands of a pilot who doesn’t do mandated safety checks. We can respect our volunteers for the noble and heroic work that they do while also insisting that they adhere to policy. Isn’t firefighting dangerous enough without ignoring safety standards? Other volunteer fire companies can and do operate within those policies and standards; why won’t BRVFC?
But rather than be accountable to these policies and standards, it appears that BRVFC’s leadership chose to play it politically, and put all their eggs in the John Pearson basket.
Secondly, the Board could have chosen to work, in Calci’s words, “as a team for the good of the Township,” and collaborate on FEMS policy. Instead, at least two members on the Board, possibly three, were willfully excluded from input on this policy.
Third, the Board could have simply chosen to answer my letter and address my very valid concerns for the safety of myself and my family.
It’s interesting, but simply because I was a former Supervisor, that fact does not somehow forfeit my right to have a say in the community in which I live, a fact I believe is lost on some of the Board members and their supporters. They also forget that I was a political writer long before I was an elected official, and my return to blogging is simply that: a return to what I did before. I am a taxpaying resident of this Township just like everyone else and deserve answers to my questions just like everyone else. Perhaps I bring a little more insight into these matters than most other folks simply because of my experience, but at the end of the day, these blog posts are just one person’s point of view. It’s up to the reader to determine whether what I have to say has any credibility or not.
But in my opinion, what is going on at our Township is very, very wrong.
“Just a Draft” or Unofficial Guiding Document?
The Upper Providence Democrats attempted to hang on to what’s left of their public credibility with the insistence that the Collaborative Agreement and Attachment F (integration document) were just “Drafts.” The “Project Plan,” another policy document, did not even come up at the meeting.
But the real question is, what is the nature of these documents? Are they merely “DRAFTS?” Proposals under consideration, as Pearson would have us believe?
Or are they more of a secret, unofficial and unapproved guiding set of documents legitimized solely by the grace of King Pearson? The documents in the RTK tell a different story than the one Pearson and his Girls® are telling.
The first documentation of BRVFC writing policy comes at 3/22/18, well before the April 4 Special Fire and Emergency services meeting and the April 16 meeting where the milestones were approved. According to BRVFC President LoCasale’s email below, this document, which was not included as an attachment on the email, was to be discussed at the March 29 meeting at the “Oakes” Firehouse that Helene Calci was coordinating. Attendees of this meeting were Pearson, Calci, Tieperman and Bortnichak from the Township; LoCasale, and presumably Daywalt, Kasper and Callahan for BRVFC. Since the purpose of this meeting was to discuss the “Plan,” it would seem to me that something as basic as whether the Township or the BRVFC would have control over FEMS was discussed.
It is hard to believe that BRVFC would have wasted their time writing the policies which later became the Project Plan, Attachment F and the Collaborative Agreement without at least a high level blessing from the Board members present.
4/10/18, The “come to Jesus” email to former Fire Chief Josh Overholt contains two significant bullet points about Board direction regarding the BRVFC. These directives were never publicly stated directives by the Board of Supervisors. Note as well, the Public Works employees had all filled out applications to “join” BRVFC.
4/16/18 Attachment F, which is the plan for rolling the professionals and the public works guys into BRVFC, is first communicated on the afternoon before the Board votes on the milestones.
5/1/18 is the first submission of the Collaborative Agreement which will be reviewed for a 5/2 meeting.
The Project Plan document contains this interesting bit of policy, specifically outlining how the Staff intergration was going to be taking place.:
Attachment F shows that BRVFC was also taking “ownership” of the new Township firehouse, AKA the “BRVFC Central Station:”
5/14/18 For the first time, Joe LoCasale asks when they will be briefing the Board on this policy. They are also ready to settle the collaborative agreement and start up the new organization.
5/17/18 LoCasale tells Township Staff that BRVFC will be needing another member on the Steering Committee. Given the scope of the policy so far, and the fact that BRVFC is pretty much writing their ticket before the Steering Committee is even established, this strikes me as a wholly unnecessary demand.
5/19/18 This email reiterates the direction of the other “Draft” documents, spelling out the integration of UPT Career staff and Public Works employees intothe BRVFC with BRVFC as the lead organization.
5/21/18 Board of Supervisors meeting, in which Pearson spends most of the meeting quoting the Collaborative agreement and admitting that he has been meeting with BRVFC on his “own personal time.”
6/1/18 Once again, like a long-time mistress who keeps asking when her lover is going to leave his wife and marry her, LoCasale asks –again — when they are going to brief the Board to legitimize this policy direction. He also asks when they are going to “settle” these “Draft” documents, because without that, they are “just spinning their wheels.”
After the creation of the Steering Committee, the minutes from the first three meetings reveal that this group was doing anything but “spinning its wheels.” The following excerpts from the Steering Committee minutes put lie to the Democrats’claims that “nothing has been done” and that they are “not moving in this direction.”
Based on this partial rehash of the RTK documents presented here, it’s obvious that BRVFC was being given free and unfettered reign on creating Township policy. The RTK reveals that almost weekly meetings between the Township and BRVFC were taking place prior to the passage of the Milestones and the creation of the Steering Committee, and of course, there were an unknown number of meetings that happened on John Pearson’s “own personal time.”
At no time over the course of these 10 weeks was BRVFC reeled in, or asked to change direction; indeed the RTK reveals a relentless course forward. All of this correspondence took place before the first meeting of the Steering Committee and many of the policies were being written before the Board had even voted upon the Milestones.
And once the Steering Committee began meeting, the minutes from the first three meetings clearly reveal that the policy just continued forward, with Upper Providence Township moving towards placing the responsibility for Township Fire and Emergency Services into the hands of BRVFC, without briefing the entire Board, without a vote, and without a public discussion.
BRVFC was obviously comfortable enough with how the documents mentioned in LoCasale’s June 1 email were settled that they were unconcerned about “spinning their wheels.”
At the 9/4/18 meeting, Pearson and Calci repeatedly insisted that these documents were “only drafts,” and that “nothing has been done” with them, and that they weren’t “going in that direction.” In spite of these protests from Pearson and Calci, it appears that, quite to the contrary, this policy was moving along in EXACTLY that direction without anyone daring to put a stop to it.
My theory, and your mileage may vary: These were no “Drafts.” These were policy documents, designed to be implemented as soon as possible, and only to be revealed to the rest of the Board after it became too late to turn back.
The Board is totally backing off of the this policy
Oh, let us count the ways. They are practically leaving skid marks on Greentree Road as they back away.
How many times did Pearson and Calci insist that the Collaborative Agreement was “just a draft?” Answer: Too many to count.
Judas Pearson denied the BRVFC far more than three times.
After first denying knowledge of the document, both Pearson and Calci also went so far as to say that the Collaborative Agreement was considered and rejected: they decided not to go in that direction.
Calci washed her hands of the entire document, first denying she had even seen it, then citing it as something they “had nothing to do with” that was created “all the way back in the spring.”
The Democrats couldn’t distance themselves enough from this policy or responsibility to it.
Exit Questions: The RTK documents don’t lie: This is a policy that was embraced, encouraged and contributed to by at least two members of the Board, Pearson and Calci. Yet as soon as this agenda was publicly revealed, both Pearson and Calci (and Higgins) disavowed knowledge of it, denied seeing it, insisted it was not decided upon, and that it was not the direction the Township was going.
It makes one wonder: Why was this only a policy to back away from when it became public knowledge? One could almost understand their reluctance at being called out for yet another Sunshine law violation, but they disavowed the entire policy direction and washed their hands of any initiatives outlined in the “Drafts.” If Pearson and Calci were acting in the best interests of the Township for the last eight months while this policy was being “drafted” behind the scenes, exposing this policy direction to the light of day should not have derailed it.
Why the back pedaling now, if this was such a great policy direction?
Why did they immediately distance themselves from it when it became public?
Why didn’t they champion it after months of nurturing it and encouraging it?
Why not make a public case for it, now that everyone knows about it?
What happens now?
The Board approved a set of “milestones” back on April 14; what the Board did not approve was the abdication of authority over FEMS to the BRVFC.
The Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night has been created to implement these milestones, but they are doing so in a manner that has not been communicated to either the entire Board or the Public.
Sub-committees have been formed consisting solely of Township staff and BRVFC members; no volunteers from any other fire companies (or EMS companies) have been asked to participate.
Meeting the timeline has taken precedence over the manner in which these milestones are being implemented, almost as if there is a rush to get this policy established before it can be stopped.
The Township’s FEMS are currently rudderless, having lost the Township’s Fire Chief, the eminently qualified Josh Overholt, to the silliness of the past year.
Who is minding the store now?
And where do we go from here?
We’ll be watching closely to see if the Board majority intends to continue their behind-the-scenes maneuvering, or if they are going to be true to their statements in this meeting, that the Collaborative Agreement was considered and rejected as a policy direction.
There’s much more to report from this meeting.
Part 2 of the 9/4/18 Meeting Notes is coming soon.