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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agenda is below:

Agenda

John Pearson sets the Tone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Spongebob Squarepants What Thats Insane

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

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

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

Discussion of the Problems

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

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

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

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

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

There is enthusiastic agreement around the dais to this suggestion.

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

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Oy vey.

Uhhhhh…wut?

Why doesn’t she already know this????

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will this be managed by the municipalities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

Unite the clans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We pick up the meeting at 1:32.

Be Careful what you ask for

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

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

Just inches from a clean getaway.

Vagnozzi:

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

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

060118 Get Phil and Al on board

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

Collaborative Agreement

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

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

AttF Giving up control

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

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

Vagnozzi continues:

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

“It’s only a DRAFT!!!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

are these your words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

pinocchio

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

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

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

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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!”

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Just one more thing…

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

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

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

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

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

pinocchio

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

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

What did we just see?

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

There are several points here that cannot be denied:

“My own personal time”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

050118 Collaborative Agreement Scope excerpt

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

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

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

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

AttachFPearson

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

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

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

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

How would Barker and Vagnozzi have known otherwise?

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

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

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

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

No thanks to him or his Girls®.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

060618 Steering Cmty Excerpt Box Assignment

How could this have been be avoided?

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

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just a Draft” or Unofficial Guiding Document?

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

drFT

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

050118 Collaborative Agreement

041618 Attachment F

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

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

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

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

032218 email intergrated fire companies

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

josh

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

041618 Attachment F Email

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

050118 Updated staff integration email

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

050118 Project plan pros roll into BRVFC not vice versa excerpt

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

BRVFC CENTRAL STATION

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

051418 May 16 meeting

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

051718 Steering committee needs one more member

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

051918 Drawings for Oaks FH email

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

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

060118 Get Phil and Al on board

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

060618 Steering Cmty Excerpt Box Assignment

060618 Steering Committee Excerpt New Station Design subcommittee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Board is totally backing off of the this policy

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

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

Judas Pearson denied the BRVFC far more than three times.

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

backing up homer simpson GIF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens now?

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

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

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

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

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

Who is minding the store now?

And where do we go from here?

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

There’s much more to report from this meeting.

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

UPT Board Meeting Notes 8/6/18 Episode 12  Cry Me a River

Two and a half hours.

That was all I could see when I looked at the August 6, 2018 Board of Supervisors meeting.

Two and a half hours.

And just to get to those two and a half hours, I’d have to sit through Pearson butchering another reading from “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Ugh.

Well, I put it off long enough. I watched the whole thing. Admittedly, there were times when it was just so boring, my attention wandered, but there are certainly a few moments worth highlighting. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Not Quite Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Due to the poor microphones at the beginning of his comments, the first public commenter’s name is not discernible. He’s a 13-month resident who just bought a new Toll Brothers house in the development at Black Rock and 29 and he wants to hold the Township accountable for what he claims is his builder’s shoddy work. He drones on, uninterrupted, for fourteen minutes, with an itemized list of problems with his house, accusations of incompetence and threats of legal action against said builder and the Township. With a list of problems this long, it’s puzzling that he is the only homeowner that has them, and he does not appear to be representing any other homeowner in the development other than himself. At one point, Vagnozzi leans back and appears to ask Pearson to put an end to the hurled accusations, but Pearson does nothing.

The resident appears to be simultaneously accusing the Township of not properly inspecting his home, while at the same time demanding the Township re-inspects it. He wants repairs effected and paid for by the builder and the Township — but at no cost to the taxpayers (which raises the question: where does he think the Township gets its money from?) Additionally, he wants the Township to delay the dedication of the entire development. If his laundry list of claims is true, it’s hard to see how he can still be living there. Perhaps he needs something a little stronger than a Township inspection.

Image result for this house is clean
I have cleaned many houses

Pearson waits until the end of this 14 minute accusation-laden dissertation to say that he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to discuss “this thing, whatever it is, because of the accusations in there.” He asks the resident to give a copy of this statement to the Solicitor (why wasn’t that done in the first place?) and promises a response within the 30 days that the resident demands. Turning to the Solicitor, Pearson asks, “Is that ok with you, Joe?” To which Bresnan responds, “Well, we might respond in 30 days.” since the Township’s liability here is hardly established.

I want the truth about your stucco
I want the truth about your stucco!

At the end of his comments, the resident starts to grill Vagnozzi directly, saying “You live in a Toll Brothers house. Aren’t you currently undergoing remediation for a stucco issue?” Vagnozzi says he and several of his neighbors filed a warranty complaint against the developer. I’m not sure if the point of this comment is to ask for advice, accuse Vagnozzi of getting some special treatment or simply to embarrass him, but Vagnozzi was not alone in getting Toll Brothers to fix the stucco on his home, many of his neighbors in that development did as well, something I witnessed first hand when I canvassed that neighborhood twice last year.

Public comments, by the way, are supposed to be limited to 3 minutes.

In any event, when the resident starts gearing up for a cross-examination, it’s Bresnan, not Pearson, who puts a stop to it, reminding the audience, and the Board, that this is getting beyond the realm of public comment.

Interestingly, the next resident who approaches the malfunctioning microphone, Marlene Magnowski (sp?) wants to talk about an impending Catskills Farms development in Mont Clare, and Pearson immediately tells her to sit down, and that she’ll have an opportunity to comment when that issue comes up on the agenda.

Which raises another question: why does Pearson allow certain residents to speak for five times the allotted time for public comment and others are told to sit down and wait until a more appropriate point in the meeting? Given the first resident’s adversarial comments threatening legal action against the township, these comments should have been curtailed in short order and directed to the Solicitor immediately.

And yet, for some reason, they weren’t.

Water, Water, Everywhere

The Catskills Farm four lot subdivision is the very next item on the agenda and it’s the development Ms. Magnowski wanted to talk about. She shouts from the audience if it’s ok to come up now, and Pearson tells her to listen to the presentation first because her question might be answered. It is not the first, or the last time that Pearson loses control of this meeting, but it happens so regularly, it’s hardly worth mentioning anymore.

The presentation gets off to an awkward start because the developer has not submitted an electronic version of his plan and there is no easel available on which to prop the drawing. So there is no visual for the residents or the viewers at home.

The discussion on this 5 acre, four lot subdivision quickly becomes all about water.

The developer requests a waiver on the storm run-off which, according to the engineer, is a de-minimus amount. The site drains to the Schuylkill River by three different flow paths.

Pearson, a self-proclaimed “expert” in all things water-related in Mont Clare, asks, “I…I wanna know where…where you’re talking about when it’s…it’s emptying into three different points, ok? Three different areas. Can you explain that to me?”

When the developer’s engineer approaches the Board with his drawings to explain this to Pearson, he tells the Board that one of the points is a drainage ditch along Canal Street, where the water goes into a pipe and drains into the river.

At this point, Pearson tells everyone that that particular pipe has a problem with drainage, that it backs up and it needs to be “addressed.”

Now “de-minimus” is a Latin term which I’m sure Pearson doesn’t understand when he says, “Running more water into that thing is not going to…help any of the residents down there.”

Yes, it’s all for the residents. It has nothing to do with this:

The Fitz

It’s times like these that I often wonder if John Pearson knows that he is, you know, actually in charge of Upper Providence Township. I wonder if he realizes that if he notices that there is a drainage pipe that doesn’t seem to be working–for fifty years!–all he has to do is pick up the phone and have someone from Public Works check it out. He doesn’t have to wait until a developer comes in who wants to put three measly houses on five acres down there. He can “address” this issue at any time he wants.

Of course, there may be a reason that time may be now, as we will soon see.

Giant Drawing
“How long am I going to have to hold this up?”

The engineer patiently explains that they are taking a 50-year post development storm and moving it all the way down to a two-year pre-development storm and that they are “way overcompensating” for storm water, but that is the Township’s regulation; “In reality, “ the engineer says, “there is way less water leaving the site.”

 

The engineer is now trapped at the front of the room, holding his ridiculously giant drawing in Pearson’s face while Pearson stammers through this wholly scientific disagreement with the engineer’s calculations:

“I’m not disagreeing with your calculations. These days, when a storm comes through it drops two inches of rain on…on a piece of ground…uhhhhh…right up the street from this particular development here….uhhhh….we had runoff from another development that was up top there and uhhhh…..ummm…it destroyed the road down there. Just…just the way that it rains these days. It’s not…you know, and maybe we ought to look at our ordinances again a re-address these things. Ummmm…and where is the third one draining?”

When the engineer tries to explain, Pearson interrupts again:

“Also, and you can…you can ask our Public Works department, cuz Tom is here, that a lot of these drains down there don’t go anywhere, you gotta run water into a…a…uhhhh…a drain down there that is clogged or…or has been that way for fifty years. Then the water doesn’t go anywhere down there. The reason I know this is cuz I lived down there for many years. So I’m very familiar with what…what…with what…water goes on down there, so it’s like and here it travels and whatever else, ummm….I’ve watched the water come up, and this is not your fault, I watched the water come up the other day, ummmm…to within uhhhhh….inches of my back door. Because of the flooding Schuylkill River. But there again, that’s not your problem, you know…when you put something in…in my neighborhood like this, ummmmm….aaaahhh…that concerns me, so, I want you…I want you to be aware of it, I’m not…I’m not…I’m not real happy with the drainage on this for some reason and I…and I don’t know that you have an answer with that. I don’t know.”

Drowning in tears
Help! My concern tears won’t drain to the river!

When the engineer says, “I’m not sure how you would make it less…” Pearson interrupts and says, “I don’t know how you would, either.”

 

The engineer incredulously points out that there is a watershed “here” (on the drawing) that Pearson is asking him account for, that drains to a river they are not doing anything to. He says they are putting storm water basins on each of the new lots.

“I know, but you are running two-thirds of everything into a system that’s not functional today. You know, you’re running water into a pipe that…that doesn’t function.”

Calci jumps in and asks, “Is the bigger question to fix the problem that isn’t working?”

Pearson responds,

“I don’t have an ans…I don’t have an answer. All I know is this one in particular runs into a pipe that is not functioning. And the one, the other one that you are running into has issues. Ummmm….I don’t, you know I don’t have an answer for you at this point in the game, that’s just…that’s just one of the scenarios. Ummm….there was…there was…mention in here about ummm….ahhh….I want to move on to something else because I don’t want to ssss…sit here and beat you up with this thing. The ummm…ahhh…each one of these lots is going to have a well on it, I assume?”

The Engineer says yes to the wells.

And NOW, after that thoroughly awkward segue way, we get to the heart of what Pearson wants:

“Have you looked into the costs of running water down Walnut Street there, or Port Providence Road, I guess it’s called Port Providence Road there?”

The engineer says they have not.

“Ok. So…w-w-w-wouldn’t it be better for your development to have public water? And maybe we could consider some of these waivers as a tradeoff for you running water down into there, which then would… would make the ummm…uhh, the water company, whoever’s running that water down there, uhhhh, you might get a discount on that, if…if…they’re looking to pick up other customers down there, there’s got to be 40 or 50 other homes down there. It’s just a thought. I’m not telling you to do that. I can’t make you do that.”

There is some awkward shuffling and questions in the wake of this pronouncement while the engineer just nods and slowly walks away from the dais.

“I’m not against your development, I want you to know that, I’m not against it, but I…I’m…I have major concerns about the water runoff. It…it’s a …uhhh..a bad, it’s just a bad area, ok? And…and…and when I sat here twenty some years ago I made the recommendation that we start buying up properties down there so that in a lifetime, we wouldn’t have this situation, that that would all eventually be open space that everybody could use down there, so, you know, uhhh…uhh…I’m sure my neighbors are not happy with me saying that, but you know, ummm…it’s…it’s an issue. Water runoff down there is a really bad issue.”

When Bresnan asks for clarification of “de-minumus”, attorney for the developer, Ed Mullin explains directly to Pearson, “I don’t know if you understood. After development, a 50 year storm has to be reduced to a two-year storm. Two year storms happen all the time. So it’s going to be better than it is today just because we are building there.” Mullin then offers to “look into that pipe” and see if there’s some way they could “unclog it.”

Pearson’s not done yet. He needs to invoke global warming, first:

“Well…well, that might help, that might help make my decision, absolutely. Ummm, but the…but you know when you guys, ehhmm, and today we all refer to storms ok? We’re referring to when storms were written up years ago, it’s like, the storm that we have today is different than the storms that we had a few years ago. You know, ummm….I’m not gonna get into the global warming thing, but you know, it’s like, ehhhh, I…I have a rain gauge on my property and…and when the storm goes by and it 20 minutes, an hour or so, and I look at my storm gauge and it reads two…two inches eeehhh…two inches of rain fell on my property…I….that kinda scares me we’re still using calculations from years ago and you go, ok, well, it’s not a big deal, well the minute you put that in there and…and you walk away from this thing, it becomes a big deal to everyone that’s living down there, it’s like, I’m trying to avoid that.”

LiquidPlumrIn response to this rather unhinged diatribe, Mullin reiterates his promise to look into the clogged pipe and says he will also draw Pearson a picture of the de-minimus storm waters waiver they are requesting (“We’ll provide a graphic representation.”). Pearson is very happy with this. He’s a “visual guy,” you know.

Vagnozzi asks if anyone at the Township has asked about running water down there. Tom Broadbelt, the Director of Public Works, says that they have talked to Aqua America, who has run water down to Container Corp, but there were not enough houses down there to justify the cost of going further, so they would be looking for financial help in doing that. Pearson seizes on this comment.

“Well, here would be the perfect example, you know, it’s like, it gonna cost them like x amount of dollars to drill a well down there on each of those properties, ok? The last time I had a well drilled it was over $10,000, and it’s like, you know, you’ve got $30,000 dollars there and I don’t know what it costs you to run a pipe, I’m sorry.”

Water line
Pipe dreams do come true!

When Broadbelt mentions that Phoenixville water would be closer, but they are going through a transition and not building anymore, Vagnozzi says that’s it’s also a fire safety issue, too, and Pearson looks like a kid on Christmas morning. He can’t agree with Vagnozzi enough.

This discussion goes on for quite some time more, with Calci questioning the sidewalks and then Pearson once again losing complete control of the meeting when Marlene Magnowski finally gets her chance to speak and approaches the dais with handouts saying she “calls bullsh*t” on the development. In one of the more ironic exchanges of the year, it takes Pearson a beat or two to chastise her about her language.

The rest is just static and the Board approved it unanimously, anyway with Pearson actually berating Ms. Magnowski from the dais on how the developer has a right to build here and then lecturing her on how they are going to make the runoff situation better, effectively putting the lie to all of his earlier histrionics over storm water.

They had him at “public water.”

So a few issues with this exchange:

  1. Besides being the owner of the Fitzwater Station, John Pearson is also the owner of Port Providence Paddle. At least one of the three water rescues that occurred the day before this meeting was from a customer of his establishment. Why would Pearson, who claims he’s “very familiar with what water goes on down there,” and has experienced many floods and flood stages, why would he even open for business when the Schuylkill River is at flood stage? And let’s not even talk about his personal pick for providing water rescue services for the Township.
  2. As mentioned previously, I think Pearson forgets that he is in charge of this Township. He likes to sit back and whine about how he, like everyone else down in Mont Clare, is a victim of Township inaction, like this clogged pipe. But he has the power to fix it! Has he never asked anyone at the Township to clear this troublesome pipe that has plagued Port providence for fifty years? And now that he has acknowledged that the pipe hasn’t been working for fifty years –a time period that spans all of his terms as an Upper Providence supervisor office—has he exposed the Township to flood liability with his long acknowledgement of the problem and his subsequent inaction?
  3. For that matter, why did he allow the first public commenter at this meeting to hurl threats and accusations about Township employees and expose the Township to liability for the problems with his privately constructed home? Once again, he thoughtlessly subjects the Township to liability for his own political ends.
  4. shakedown
    This will help me make my decision.

    Perhaps most intriguing is Pearson’s barely disguised attempt to shake down this developer for public water in Mont Clare. Remember this is a tiny, four lot subdivision over five acres. This isn’t a Toll Brothers Tract House project. He says there are 40 to 50 houses down in Mont Clare to make it worth the water company’s effort to run pipe down there. But you know what else is down there?

A dive bar.

The infamous Fitzwater Station (and Port Providence Paddle) is serviced by that $10,000 well Pearson mentioned earlier and that well is eventually going to go bad. The well in question was drilled as an “emergency” solution to Pearson’s water problem at the Fitz when the last well went bad in 2008. Pearson was issued a permit contrary to the requirements of the Montgomery County Public Health Code because he was drilling a well that encroached within 30 feet of the Schuylkill Canal. Full document can be viewed at the following link: Best Technical Guidance Fitzwater Station Well 111908

Well Encroachment

I know I’ve accused Pearson of having an agenda that consists solely of petty partisan revenge and political payback, but I was wrong. His agenda also includes getting some perks for himself.

Dollars without Sense

penywiseAt the last meeting, a recommendation by the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night to appoint D’Huy Engineering to as the construction contract manager of a new, centrally located Emergency Services building was tabled. Craig Murray from D’Huy comes up to give his pitch, and when he asks what questions the Board may have, Pearson opens the discussion with the following obnoxious comment:

“I want you to tell me how much money you are going to save me, ok? That’s what I’m interested in because, you know, uhhhm, we’ve been doing a lot of building here lately, as you could tell, going through the Township and I’m interested in saving money on this thing, I’m not interested in overages, extra expenses for this and that, and…and…I had talked to Tim today about it, I want somebody that’s going to do their homework, and…and…that’s what I’m interested in. So convince me that you’re the guy.”

After Murray just sat through the preceding Storm Water Kabuki Theater, I’m surprised he didn’t laugh in Pearson’s face at his insistence on “someone who does their homework.” I know I laughed out loud, but I have had much more experience watching the actual lack of homework being done by this Board.

Anyway, the entire discussion is really moot and the approval is only a formality. I bring it up only to point out two things:

First, that Pearson actually asks the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company President, Joe LoCasale, if he is ok with this appointment before Pearson calls for the vote. Is this really necessary? Presumably, the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night made a formal recommendation to the Board, so deferring to LoCasale to approve this only reinforces the notion (outlined in detail HERE) that it is the BRVFC running Emergency Services in this Township and that Tieperman and Bortnichak are really nothing more than flimsy window dressing on this poor policy decision.

penny pinch
I can think of ten good reasons not to let go of a dime.

Second, Pearson has been doing an awful lot of running his mouth about saving money. The ill-advised decision to close the fitness center at Anderson Farm Park is part of it, but the Fitness Center is the only part of the Rec Center that actually recoup some money to offset its cost. I suspect that Pearson’s ultimate agenda is to just close the Rec Center and have that great big $11 million white elephant sit empty and unused in the middle of the Township so he can say he saved the Township money on air conditioning.

Meanwhile, earlier in the year, he spent $86,100 open space money on private farmland that only one family in the Township is ever going to get to enjoy.

He looked at the ambulance issue and instead of thinking long-term, Pearson spitefully picked the most expensive and temporary option to implement, if only so he would not have to acquiesce to adding a centrally located ambulance for Upper Providence. As part of that decision, he’s purchasing and equipping a medic response vehicle that will cost about $80,000 and will be obsolete within two years and cost upwards of at least $100,000 more per year to operate than the ambulance.

A few meetings ago, he whined about the cost of fixing a bridge on Ashenfelter Road cost, later in this meeting, he whines about the cost of trails, and the cost of Township compliance with the storm water management program, of all things.

And let’s not forget, he has basically abdicated all responsibility for the design of the new centrally located Emergency Services building to a committee populated with volunteer firemen. I’m sure there won’t be anything unreasonable or extravagant in their design recommendations.

Pearson’s vision for Upper Providence Township is painfully limited to his term in office as it has been for every term he has served in office.

Membership has its privileges

In an interesting twist this year, Pearson, who usually has a problem with anyone other than the Fitzwater Station selling alcohol within the borders of the Township, approves not one, but two alcohol vendors to provide legal beverages at Community Day this year.

beer
Party time! Excellent!

Some of the Township’s frequent flyers with long memories might remember that Pearson had such a problem with alcohol vendors being allowed to sell their wares at Community Day last year that he approached the Board to comment against it during public comment last year. The vendor last year was the well-known Sly Fox Brewery, an establishment that has been around for quite some time and the owner of which was a Township resident.

This year, Pearson doesn’t seem to have any sort of problem with alcohol being served at Community Day, nor enlarging the beer garden area, nor extending the serving hours. One of the vendors will be “Pour House” from Lansdale, and I know of no local connection to the Township for this vendor.

The other vendor, however, is politically connected. “Tuned Up Brewery” out of Spring City is owned and operated by Clint Tichnell and Jeremy Burke, both of whom held leadership positions at Trappe Ambulance last year and are friends with the politically connected Kaspers of BRVFC.  It is unclear if Quizzo is offered at Tuned Up.

TunedUp

In August 2017, the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors was evaluating bids from the three local ambulance companies to provide a centralized ambulance service to the Township.  In the midst of these presentations, Mr. Burke, in his capacity as Trappe VFC Vice President, posted the following political post regarding “BS” Upper Providence politics to his homeowner’s association Facebook page. Presumably, this was posted in an effort to mobilize the public to influence the Board’s decision.  The post was intercepted and distributed beyond the homeowners association. I have redacted the needlessly defamatory portion of the post.

Burke1Burke2Burke3

According to Trappe Fire Company’s webpage, neither Tichnell nor Burke appears to hold any leadership position within Trappe VFC or Ambulance at this time. However,  both Jeremy Burke and Clint Tichnell are still listed as “Interior Firefighters.”

Regular readers may recall that there was a meeting between the newly elected Upper Providence Democrat Board Members and Trappe Ambulance immediately following the November election, wherein a completely different set of ambulance budget numbers was presented only for the Democrats to review. These budget numbers indicated that if Trappe Ambulance was awarded the contract, it would hurt them financially.  And if they weren’t awarded the ambulance contract, it would hurt them financially.

medicrespondes
A completely non-political decision

Interestingly, instead of the cheaper, more effective, and longer term option of the centralized ambulance, in April of this year, the Democrat majority on the Board voted for that great Medic Responder Unit that will be obsolete about 10 minutes after it goes into service.  (If you need a refresher, the ambulance and fire issues have been covered ad nauseum in this blog HERE HERE HERE HERE and HERE)

It’s nice that Upper Providence is giving these connected local boys some free publicity and a boost to their business as a vendor at the Township Community Day, isn’t it? Maybe they will rate some free advertising in the Township newsletter, too.

Other Business

  • A hearing on the Township’s MS4 storm water runoff plan was held.
  • The Board approved the demolition at of structures at Linfield-Trappe Road and Township Line for road widening
  • The Township’s Administrative code was briefly discussed
  • Trail master planning and connections were discussed
  • And, in a request he’s sure to regret, Pearson issued an assignment to the Board members that they are each to come up with Supervisors comments for the next meeting.

Next Meeting

Will be held at the Oaks Firehouse. Of course.

Burning Down The House: A Timeline of the Devolution of Fire Services in Upper Providence Township

Watch out! You might get what you’re after, – Talking Heads

This post may interest you if you rely on 9-11 in Upper Providence

Following the fiasco of the June 18 Board of Supervisors meeting, where it quickly became apparent that decisions and deliberation about the Rec Center and the Fire Services were being conducted outside of public Board meetings, I filed the following RTK with Upper Providence Township on June 25, 2018.

RTK

The new FEMS policy never sat well with me.  Based on what I knew to be the Township’s FEMS policy direction at the end of 2017, how the Township arrived at what is essentially an about-face in Fire Policy has always puzzled me.  I filed this RTK almost as an afterthought based on Chairman John Pearson’s publicly admitted violation of Sunshine laws regarding the closing of the Rec Center.  The scope of the RTK is pretty narrow, and I wasn’t sure that there would be many documents included in it, much less ones that would be of use.  What I actually received was a surprise.

I took delivery of this package of documents on July 31, 2018.

And then, after reading and digesting these documents….ugh. What to do with it?  Well, first, I gave the BOS the opportunity to respond:

080718 Mossie Letter

The attachment referenced and included with my email above is critical to understanding the impetus behind this post.  That document is linked here:  020918 BRVFC History

I gave the Board of Supervisors more than a week to respond to me with what should have been an already existing policy point.  It appears that by the Board’s choice to not respond that the ball is back in my court. In fact, it’s almost as if they think they are calling a bluff; that I will be afraid go public with it, and further, that even if I did, no one would care.

Believe me, I don’t particularly relish stirring up this hornets’ nest of irrational, unexplained hate that is mostly expressed by self-satisfied, passive-aggressive braying on the internet.  There are good people involved in the BRVFC and I appreciate all of the volunteers who put their lives on the line for the mission of public safety.  The problem is that BRVFC’s leadership has a history of engaging in unsafe operations (documented here: 020918 BRVFC History ) and whenever the Township attempts to hold them accountable for this, they trot out that old Township Boogeyman narrative to their membership, and they go after another head for their wall.  This narrative has been successful for years; even though the Township leadership has undergone some significant turnover in the last seven years and the same three guys (excluding current BRVFC President Locasale) are still “in charge” at BRVFC, they somehow still manage to sell the story to their membership that their leadership is not the problem.  It’s always the Township’s fault that morale is down and the organization is struggling.

Every document contained in this post is a public document.  All material has been vetted by the Township’s Right to Know officers and redacted by the Township Solicitor, as applicable.

I do not post any of this lightly.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the entire file of the raw RTK data is linked below.  It contains all of the documents included within the scope of the RTK.  Some of these documents are irrelevant, some are duplicated, some are out of date order.

RTKBlackRockFire -Redacted 0731

Because this post is about public safety, it is necessarily detailed to include all of the relevant documentation to tell the story right.  I’m posting an abbreviated Summary version immediately below; those that want to see more detail and the relevant documents are encouraged to continue on to the Full Timeline, below that.

SUMMARY

Devolution

What follows is a narrative of how Upper Providence Township’s Fire and Emergency Services Department went from a policy of correction, remediation and accountability towards the Black Rock Fire Company (“BRVFC”) to having the BRVFC dictating Township policy as the primary provider of Fire Services in the Township in a few short months.

MAJOR POLICY DIFFERENCES

Policy Differences

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

January 2018:

  • The new Board settles in.
  • Township staff issue an invitation to the BRVFC President for a meeting between the BRVFC leadership and the Township Supervisors.  A “Cheat Sheet” agenda is prepared for Chairman Pearson’s use, including talking points, one of which is that the Township is “looking to align itself with a fire company for a combination department under the leadership of the Township’s Fire and Emergency Services Chief.”  BRVFC is to be asked if they are interested in being that fire company, and if so, what they bring to the table.  It is clear that no fire company has been selected at this point.
  • The Township’s goals are to improve performance and response times of the volunteer companies.
  • Township fire policy violations were noted on January 11.

February 2018:

  • In preparation for Pearson’s Secret Monday Morning Meeting of February 12, Chief Overholt sends the BRVFC History document to Tieperman, which is a record of the BRVFC’s operating issues over the past several years.  Also attached is the then-current FEMS Future presentation, laying out the vision for Upper Providence’s FEMS for the next several years.
  • Township fire policy violations are noted on February 16.
  • In a public meeting, Supervisor Calci agrees to work with Supervisor Vagnozzi on a “FEMS subcommittee.”
  • A meeting is scheduled with the Township and BRVFC for February 22, 2018, in which a timeline for seven specific goals for improving BRVFC’s performance are to be discussed.  This is last time performance goals are mentioned with regard to BRVFC in the RTK.

March 2018:

  • In anticipation of the April 4 Special FEMS Public Meeting, Tieperman and Bortnichak now assume responsibility for articulating “Staff’s” vision for FEMS by making edits to what is to become the public slide presentation on April 4.  Overholt is not meaningfully included in the process.  A conference call takes place on March 22 to discuss the public presentation; Calci and Pearson are the only Board members included.  On March 29, Tieperman and Bortnichak send the “Staff” FEMS presentation to BRVFC for review/approval; BRVFC submits edits to the presentation.
  • On March 20, per Township Policy, after numerous warnings for the same infraction, Overholt writes a written disciplinary notice to a member of BRVFC, but before sending it to the offender, he first sends it to the Township Manager and Assistant Manager asking for their feedback, due to “the sensitivity of the situation” and “the relationship between BRVFC and Chairman Pearson being what it is.”  It is unclear if the disciplinary notice was ever delivered.
  • On March 22, BRVFC begins writing the policy to guide the integration of the Township’s paid firefighters (Station 93) into BRVFC (Station 99) and not vice versa, ie. the Volunteers into the Township organization.  This directive has not been discussed or approved by the Board of Supervisors in a public meeting.

April 2018:

  • At the Public FEMS Special Board Meeting on April 4, the slide presentation is presented to the public as “Staff’s Recommendations.” Members of BRVFC are thanked at the beginning of the meeting, but their input into the slide presentation is not mentioned.  It is the first time Barker and Vagnozzi, along with the public, see the presentation.
  • On April 10, “concerns” about Overholt’s resistance to the Pearson-BRVFC FEMS Agenda are articulated by Bortnichak to Tieperman.  A “come to Jesus” meeting is scheduled with Overholt and his superiors, Tieperman and Bortnichak.
  • Just prior to the April 16 Board meeting BEFORE the new FEMS policy is approved:
    • Calci sends her “signing statement” to Pearson and Tieperman for review/approval
    • BRVFC Vice President Kasper gives EMS policy recommendations to Board members Calci and Higgins, citing the “politicization” of the EMS issue as his reason for reaching out. Kasper also admits he is “not an expert” on EMS.
    • BRVFC produces sketches for space reallocation at the BRVFC Oaks Firehouse
    • BRVFC submits an updated policy for integrating the Township’s paid staff (Station 93) with the BRVFC volunteers (Station 99).  This policy now specifically excludes Chief Overholt from the Station 99 designation and further, dictates that he must defer command at any emergency scene to BRVFC, unless there is no one qualified to command from BRVFC at the scene.  Overholt’s title will be changed from “Chief” to “Director of Fire and Emergency Services.”
  • That evening, at the public BOS meeting, the new FEMS policy is approved.

May 2018:

  • On May 1, BRVFC produces a “Collaborative Agreement” noting that “it is understood through discussions with the Chair of Board of UPT Supervisors and the UPT Township Manager and Assistant manager that BRVFC will be the primary fire service organization within the Township.”  There is no mention in any of the documentation of consideration for the Township’s other servicing Fire Companies:  Trappe, Royersford, or Collegeville.  Apparently, like the Township’s brand new towing policy, the only requirement is that the business be located within the Township borders.  Actual qualifications and performance?  Not so much.
  • BRVFC continues to produce Township policies before the creation of the Steering Committee and without at least two of the Supervisors (Vagnozzi and Barker) ever seeing them.  When the Steering Committee is finally created, BRVFC instructs the Township that they need more representation on it.  At the May 21 meeting, this request is voted down.  Also at that meeting, it becomes apparent to the public that Vagnozzi and Barker have been excluded from any decision making on the FEMS policy, and Pearson admits he alone has been giving BRVFC authority to proceed during meetings he is having with them “on his own personal time.”
  • On May 6, in an email to Supervisors Pearson, Higgins, and Calci and Tieperman and Bortnichak, BRVFC Vice President Kasper accuses Overholt of insubordinate behavior due to a Facebook post he “Liked.” Kasper avers that because of this Facebook “Like,” that BRVFC cannot trust Overholt.

June 2018:

  • The Township, in collaboration with BRVFC leadership, engages an engineering firm to evaluate the needs for a centrally located firehouse.
  • The Steering Committee begins meeting and subcommittees for Box Assignments and New Station Design are established and staffed.  Subcommittees for Training and Standardization, issues that have to do with actual firefighting, are discussed, but never staffed.

July 2018:

  • Josh Overholt, the only person in Upper Providence Township that is trying to hold the BRVFC accountable for their performance, resigns.

THE FULL TIMELINE

January 2018: Staying the course

January 11, 2018:  In January, the new five member board went into effect and the majority belonged to the three newly elected Democrats.  Staff was working with the new members of the Board to bring them up to speed on the status of FEMS in the Township.  The Township has a long history of concerns with the operations of the BRVFC and at this point, they were hoping that the new Board would defer to the expertise and experience of Staff in setting fire policy.  The concerns about policy adherence are evident on January 11, 2018:

011118 Policy infractions

The policies attached to this email are linked below; relevant sections are highlighted in two of them:

DFES SOG- 400.05 Responding Direct

DFES SOG- 400.07 Apparatus Staffing

DFES SOG- 400.08 Backing

A word about Township fire policy is in order here:  Township fire policy does not exist to make the lives of the volunteers more difficult, make them look bad, or to hold them to impossible standards.  Township policy exists primarily for the safety of the Township’s residents and the firefighters themselves.  Even response standards, such as responding with the proper vehicle and making sure that vehicle is properly staffed, serve the public safety mandate.  The Township really only has one way to measure the effectiveness of its emergency response, and that’s through reporting kept through the Montgomery County CAD system.  The CAD system does not keep track of how many firefighters are staffing a vehicle or which vehicle is responding; they simply report when a response is called in.  The Township must rely on the volunteers to respond to the County only when they have met the proper response criteria (staffing levels, qualifications, etc. of those responding), as defined by policy.

So if an understaffed truck shows up to an emergency, or a truck shows up with firefighters unqualified to handle the emergency (water rescue, inside building, etc.) or a volunteer responds to a highway accident in a personal vehicle without reflective markings, it not  only endangers the volunteers that do respond (especially if they are unqualified to handle the emergency), but it skews the numbers for the reporting.  While this may make the responding company look better, it presents a false picture of the effectiveness of the Township’s response capabilities and ultimately puts the public in danger.

Another, more pragmatic consideration for the Township’s policies is Worker’s Comp insurance.  If a volunteer firefighter is injured responding to an emergency in the Township, the taxpayers of Upper Providence cover the cost of the Worker’s Compensation Insurance.

January 16, 2018:  An invitation to meet with BRVFC was issued:

1 invite to meet

January 24, 2018:  Staff moves ahead with preparing for the meeting.

1 0124 email cheat sheet

Assuming that Board Chairman John Pearson is starting from Ground Zero on Fire Services, staff prepares a “Cheat sheet” agenda.

2 A Cheat sheet

It’s almost cute they way Staff thinks Pearson has never talked to BRVFC members before.

2 B Cheat sheet

This agenda item is interesting for two reasons:  First the firm, but cautious, way Staff is approaching the construction of the new central firehouse. This is no doubt based upon the the Township’s experience with BRVFC’s historical resentment towards a Township firehouse.  Secondly, and more importantly, it is abundantly clear that the Township’s agenda is to choose a fire company with which to align, and if BRVFC wants to be considered for this position, there will need to be some negotiation and remediation.  It is by no means a forgone conclusion at this point that BRVFC will be that Fire Company.

2 C Cheat sheet

The chain of command structure was not part of the scope of the RTK, but suffice to say, Chapter 85, as it currently exists, gives authority over FEMS to the Township’s Fire Chief, Josh Overholt.

2 D CheatSheet

Agenda item number 4 is the Township’s primary reason for wanting to meet with BRVFC, as will become clear in February.  It is unclear whether this meeting with BRVFC ever took place.

It is also unclear who was present at this meeting, but there was an email exchange on January 24, 2018, in which Calci offers suggestions for improving EMS response times and curbing “cheating” by incenting them with bonus money from a pool of $120,000 of taxpayer dollars per year.  Overholt’s response notes that EMS times cannot really be improved without adding an ambulance, because the ambulances are already staffed.  He notes that her idea would be useful for the Fire Services, who suffer from slower response times due to the lack of staffed firehouses.  The entire email is linked below as further evidence of Staff’s thinking on FEMS.

012418 Calci-Overholt FEMS email exchange

Attached for reference below are the Township’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services resolution and the BRVFC signed contract for providing fire and emergency service to the Township.

012418 DFES Resolution

010118 UP-BRVFC Fire Service Agreement.Signed Copy

February 2018: The Turning Point

February 9, 2018:  February begins with Township Staff planning to meet with Chairman Pearson to discuss the ongoing Township/BRVFC friction.

4 monday meeting

Upon digesting the entirety of the contents of the RTK, it’s clear that this email, and the attachments it contained, marked the beginning of what turned out to be the 180 degree change in Township FEMS policy.  The documents attached in this email are linked below; both are critical pieces of information that are necessary to evaluate how to best provide FEMS protection to the Township.

The first document is staff’s original slide presentation, outlining the Township’s direction and vision for FEMS.  (The policy differences between this slide presentation and the one presented at the Special Fire and EMS public meeting on April 4, 2018, were discussed in detail HERE.)

020918 UPFES Future Presentation

The UPFES Future Presentation contains the following three options with regard to BRVFC:

Option 1Option 2Option 3The second document is more disturbing. It explains why the three options outlined above are necessary for moving forward with BRVFC and simply must be read in its entirety.

020918 BRVFC History

I sent the following email regarding these particular RTK documents:

4a 021218 meeting questions follow up

I received the following response:

4b meeting questions response

So the February 12 meeting was not an “official meeting,” but one of John Pearson’s infamous Secret Monday Morning meetings, in which no minutes are taken, nor are attendees recorded.  We can infer from this email that there was one other Supervisor present (but we don’t know who it was) and we can assume that the 020918 BRVFC History and 020918 UPFES Future Presentation documents (attached to Overholt’s email and also linked above) were not only distributed, but discussed.

February 16, 2018:  Assistant Manager Bortnichak starts gathering information on a stipend program for the volunteers.

Meanwhile, Township policies are still being disregarded:

020418 Policy Violation

February 22, 2108:  A meeting is set up with BRVFC for February 22; agenda is below:

5 0222 BRVFC Agenda

Items A through G on the agenda above indicate that there is some work that needs to be completed on behalf BRVFC and that the Township was definitely looking for improvement in their performance.  This is the last time these goals appear in the RTK.

March 2018: Overholt’s last stand

March 6, 2018:  By March, things start unravelling fast.  Fire Chief Overholt submits a revised draft of his slide presentation to Township Manager Tieperman and Assistant Manager Bortnichak.  It is the last time Overholt will have any meaningful input into the public presentation that will outline the Township’s vision for the future of the department of which he is in charge:  the Department of Fire and Emergency Services or DFES.

030618 Josh Draft Presentation email

March 9, 2018:  A few days later, the Board was calling in Harrisburg for their expertise, apparently operating under the false assumption that the higher up in government you go, the more qualified that individual is, regardless of the fact that the whole concept of Municipal Government is that local government knows best how to deal with local problems.  Calci reaches out to Sean Sanderson, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, is the Local Government Policy Manager at the DCED.  It is unclear who “Ron” is.  BRVFC is included in this meeting.

030918 Email meeting with state

Note well:  At this point, Calci is making representations to State DCED officials that the Township “is transitioning towards a unified fire model” before any public meeting or discussion of this policy has taken place.  Prior to this meeting, this integration was only expressed as a “vision” for the future in Chief Overholt’s DFES Future presentation.  It was not official Township policy.  Additionally, the inclusion of BRVFC leadership in this email suggests that a decision has already been made to partner with the BRVFC, again, before any public meeting or discussion of this policy has taken place.

As noted in January and February, the purposes of the initial 2018 meetings between BRVFC and the Township were more to test the waters regarding a “partnership” as there were documented policy compliance, performance, and cooperation issues with BRVFC, as well as that list of Township directed goals, that needed to be resolved between the two entities (See 020918 BRVFC History  , 012418 DRAFT Agenda for BRVFC cheat sheet and 022218 BRVFC Agenda ). There was no record of these discussions, or indeed, of any kind of measurable accountability or performance standards for BRVFC being implemented, nor any documentation of compliance with any of the Township’s stated goals in the interim included in the RTK.

Further note:  as was discussed at the February meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Al Vagnozzi was supposed to be included on this “FEMS Subcommittee” yet it is John Pearson, not Vagnozzi, who is included in these emails, meetings, and discussions.  (It’s no wonder that when resident Art Lebofsky asks on March 19 if this “subcommittee” is getting along, that everyone says yes.)

A week later, Calci attempted to coordinate a follow-up meeting between the “Oakes” (sic) fire company (Read: BRVFC) and Township Officials, again, excluding Fire Chief Overholt and Supervisor Vagnozzi, but including Chairman Pearson:

031318 Meeting BRVFC and Twnshp

March 13, 2018:  The next meeting is set for the end of March.  Note this meeting well, Gentle Reader. We will come back to it.  Pearson and Locasale responding to Calci:

031318 Pearson and Locasale respond

March 16, 2018: Township Manager Tieperman sends the following email to the Local Government Policy Manager for the DCED, Sean Sanderson.  Please note, the attachment power point is still basically the same document linked above.  Is this a “Hail Mary” pass attempt by Tieperman to get the State to convince Pearson and Calci of the problems with BRVFC?  Without notes from the meeting, we will never really know.

031618 letter to state

We can presume that this meeting/call took place, though there is no documentation in the RTK regarding minutes or attendees.

March 18, 2018: By March 18, 2018, the primary responsibility for the creation of the FEMS slide presentation has been completely shifted away from Township Fire Chief Overholt and Township Manager Tieperman and Assistant Manager Bortnichak are editing the product for presentation at the public meeting on April 4.  This new presentation, linked below, bears little resemblance to Overholt’s original presentation.

031818 Teiperman Bortnichak slide email

April 5, 2018 Fire Presentation as prepared b

March 20, 2018:  The RTK package includes numerous emails, most of which show Fire Chief Overholt reiterating Township fire policy to the volunteers.  As seen on the February 22, 2018 Agenda, above, one of the agenda items is for the BRVFC to provide documentation that BRVFC membership has been made aware of Township DFES policies.

The Township’s Standard Operating Guideline (“SOG”) for dealing with policy infractions, Dated January 24, 2018, is linked below:

012518 DFES SOG -102.00 – Department Infractions

This growing frustration with non-adherence to Township policy comes finally to a head on March 20, 2018.

Note well Overholt’s reluctance to issue this discipline (which is a matter of Township Policy that all of the Volunteer Fire Company Chiefs agreed to) due to the “relationship between BRVFC and Chairman Pearson:”

6 Policy Infraction Email

Policy infraction is attached below, with name redacted:

032018 BRVFC Policy Infraction 3-2018

It is unclear whether or not this discipline notice was ever delivered to the BRVFC as there is no follow-up included in the RTK packet, so this discipline notice, if it was delivered, was not delivered via email.

March 21, 2018: A conference call takes place to discuss the FEMS Meeting presentation.  At least one Supervisor, Calci, is included on the call, however, Pearson is included in the follow-up email:

032118 Conference call email

Overholt submits factual edits to the slide presentation (linked below), but these edits have nothing to do with the policy the presentation illustrates.  It is the last input he will have in the presentation, but not the last time the presentation will be edited.  Interestingly, Overholt’s email comments center upon the construction of the presentation, rather than the content.

032118 Overholt Presentation edit email

UPT FEMS Presentation Overholt Edit

This correspondence represents the last meaningful email from the Fire Chief in the RTK packet.

March 22, 2018:  An email correspondence from BRVFC President copying BRVFC leadership, including Fire Chief Jim Daywalt, and presumably Assistant Chief Jim Callahan, and Vice President Bill Kasper, talks about presenting a plan for integration of the paid and volunteer staff.

Once again, this is a major policy initiative that has not been discussed in public or approved by the Board of Supervisors. 

It should further be noted that even though Overholt is nominally in charge of the Department into which the BRVFC volunteers will be integrated, he has no say on the creation of this policy; he isn’t even copied on the email.

032218 email intergrated fire companies

March 23, 2018:  Some more back and forth between only Tieperman and Bortnichak on the slides.  Also, a lunch meeting with BRVFC President Locasale takes place later in the day.

032418 Tieperman Bortnichak edits

March 24, 2018:  Meanwhile, Tieperman and Bortnichak are not only accepting direction on policy from BRVFC leadership on the Fire side of the presentation, they are submitting the presentation to them for “approval:”

032418 Tieperman Locasale Presentation emailBTW, it should be noted that the RTK includes no references to input on from any of our EMS providers into that side of the presentation.

Regarding the Mont Clare Station:  This blog has made note (HERE) of the history of mixed signals the Township has received from BRVFC leadership over the disposition of this station. In private sessions with Supervisors, BRVFC states the need to close the station, but in public, they don’t want to take responsibility for that decision.

On January 25, 2018, BRVFC sends a follow-up email following a meeting where this issue was discussed.

012518 Mont Clare Station012418 Mont Clare Station Twp response

On February 4, 2018, BRVFC President Locasale was discussing the disposal of the Station and it’s equipment while the Township, with the permission of BRVFC leadership, engaged an appraiser to evaluate the worth of the property by February 26:

020418 MontClareStation

022618 Mont Clare Appraisal

Now here we are on March 24, and once again, BRVFC leadership balking over closing this station.  In the final April 4  “Staff” presentation, the “viability” of the Mont Clare Station is to be “evaluated” and the Oaks Station is in line for upgrades.

March 27, 2018:  Assistant Manager Bortnichak sends an email to BRVFC President Locasale stating that the stipend program will go into effect (retroactively…?) as of February 18.  Details of the stipend program mentioned below are available in the entire email, linked here:  032718 Stipend Program

032718 Stipend Program

March 28, 2018:  According to the email records, Calci’s “Oakes”/BRVFC-Township meeting takes place on either March 28 or March 29.  The only people invited are Supervisors Calci and Pearson, Manager Tieperman, Assistant Manager Bortnichak and BRVFC President Joe Locasale. Since the meeting was held at the BRVFC Firehouse (or “Oakes” if you prefer) and there are no minutes available for the meeting, it is unclear if anyone else attended, though we can assume that the members of the BRVFC Leadership who were copied on Locasale’s March 22 email were in attendance, especially since BRVFC President Locasale’s response indicates “we” are available.

032018 We are available either date

March 29, 2018:  Bortnichak submits revisions to the slide presentation “based on” the BRVFC meeting the night before.  The marked-up presentation attached to this email is linked below.

032918 Latest revisions based on BRVFC meeting

20180329104422301

Later on, Bortnichak forwards the latest revision to Overholt—after BRVFC’s Locasale has already seen it.

032918 forwarded to overholtApril 2018:  BRVFC taking control

April 3, 2018:  On the eve of the big Special FEMS Meeting of the Board of Supervisors, BRVFC President Locasale and Assistant Manager Bortnichak get advance copies of the presentation.  Fire Chief Overholt is not copied.

040318 Latest Draft

April 4, 2018: The Special Fire and Emergency Services meeting takes place.  The slide presentation given to the public is presented as “Staff’s Recommendations” and though members of BRVFC leadership are thanked at the beginning of the meeting, no mention of BRVFC’s input into the presentation is given. For what it’s worth, Vagnozzi is also “thanked” for his input, though nothing of his policy vision is included in the slide deck. Indeed, April 4 is the first time both Vagnozzi and Barker see the presentation.

For a full discussion of this meeting, and the results of the RTK I requested as a result of the slides included in that presentation, see HERE and HERE.

April 6, 7, 2018:  Lots of back slapping and good-jobbing all around regarding the FEMS meeting.  BRVFC president Locasale included in the email.  This is the first email in the RTK regarding the FEMS policy that Vagnozzi, Barker or Higgins is included upon.

040618 Self Congratulatory email040718 self congratulatory email number 2

April 10, 2018:  Fire Chief Overholt is becoming a real problem for the FEMS policy setters at the BRVFC and their puppets on the Board of Supervisors. It’s time for a “come to Jesus” meeting:

041018 Come to Jesus

As an aside:  Of course the BRVFC is being positive with the Township guys.  This is their policy being implemented, after all.

April 15, 2018:    Regular Readers may recall that this blog noted with suspicion the existence of “signing statements” by Supervisors Higgins and Calci that were read into the record at the April 16, 2018 BOS meeting.  The statements had the appearance of being coordinated and deliberated outside of the public eye.  An email on April 15 from Calci to Manager Tieperman and Chairman Pearson confirms this, with Calci asking for the men’s blessings/inputs upon her prepared remarks:

041518 Calci Signing Statement

April 16, 2018:  In advance of the regular Board meeting on April 16, 2018, BRVFC Vice President (and former “Republican” candidate for Township Supervisor) Bill Kasper, sends the following email to Supervisors Higgins and Calci.  Though admittedly not an “expert” on EMS, that does not stop him from offering his opinion:

041618 Kasper email 1041618 Kasper email 2

This is an interesting email for a several reasons.

  1. Bill Kasper obviously feels comfortable enough at this point (perhaps because he is “somehow” aware of the “come to Jesus” meeting with Overholt prescribed by Bortnichak’s April 10 email, above….?) to offer policy recommendations directly to (at least some members of) the governing body, even if they are in the cutesy style of a “What I did on my Summer Vacation” 3rd Grade Theme.
  2. Kasper offers his opinion that the EMS issue “has become too political” without even a hint of irony.  Meanwhile, behind the scenes and in concert with at least two members of the Board of Supervisors, his own organization has been completely re-writing the Township fire policy they’ve been ignoring for years.
  3. Kasper only copies Higgins and Calci; he doesn’t even try to present his idea to Vagnozzi or Barker.  If it’s such a great idea, it should stand on its own merits, politics notwithstanding.  How does he know that Barker or Vagnozzi would reject this idea out of hand without even giving them the benefit of the doubt?
  4. Kasper has already “shared” this idea with “John” {Pearson}.  When?  After Quizzo, perhaps?
  5. Most importantly is the glaring flaw in this plan.  The QRS system, which was working well in the Township, was working well because the daytime staff was responding out of the Township’s centrally located Municipal Campus.  Is Kasper proposing that response times will be improved when the daytime staff is moved to the far southeast corner of the Township, where the Oaks Firehouse is located?  Isn’t the whole premise of the EMS issue in UPT the need for a centrally located station?

Also on April 16, it is apparent that the BRVFC has been busy indeed writing policy which has not yet even been seen, discussed or voted upon by the Board of Supervisors.  Not only has BRVFC completed preliminary drawings for the expanded space at the Black Rock Fire House, they’ve written up a Stipend Program and a Live-in Member agreement.

041618 Attachment F Email

Attachment F  (which can be found here: 041618 Attachment F) contains the directive, mentioned for the first time, of rolling the Township’s paid staff and Public Works employees (collectively known as Station 93) into the BRVFC (Station 99) and not vice-versa.  It also contains this interesting bit of policy: Fire Chief Overholt is excluded from Station 99 operations and prohibited from having command over an emergency scene unless there is no one qualified from BRVFC on the scene.  This does not mean that the BRVFC officer on scene would have to be MORE qualified than Overholt, just that the BRVFC officer would have to have at least the minimum command qualifications.  Overholt’s title would also be changed from “Chief” to “Director of Fire and Emergency Services.”

041618 Attachment F Taking Command from Overholt

On April 16, 2018, the Board of Supervisors voted the proposed Fire and EMS policy into law.  It is unclear as to whether Supervisors Vagnozzi, Barker, or Higgins was aware at that time that the fire policy recommendations for which they voted were, in large part, recommendations of the BRVFC and not those of their paid and acknowledged expert on FEMS, Fire Chief Joshua Overholt.  It is further unclear as to whether Vagnozzi, Barker, or Higgins was privy to the history of BRVFC (documented here:  020918 BRVFC History) prior to the vote.  For details of this BOS meeting, please see HERE.

April 20, 2018:  Another meeting between Bortnichak and Locasale to discuss the “Plan.”

042018 discuss the plan attchment F

May 2018: Rolling downhill without the brakes

May 1, 2018:  The following email was sent from BRVFC president Joe Locasale to Township Manager Tieperman, Assistant Manager Bortnichak, Fire Chief Overholt, BRVFC Fire Chief Jim Daywalt, BRVFC Vice President Bill Kasper, and BRVFC Assistant Chief Jim Callahan.  This email certainly gives the appearance that the BRVFC, and not the Township, is writing the policy.

Furthermore, it should be noted that this process is begun well in advance of the establishment of the infamous Steering Committee, which was ostensibly created to do what the BRVFC is already doing here.  More below the email.

050118 Updated staff integration email

The the project plan attached to this email can be found here:  050118 PROJECT PLAN – UPT FIRE SERVICE Revised 5-1-

This plan contains the following excerpt, outlining that the Township’s paid firefighters (Engine 93) will be rolled into BRVFC, and not vice versa, for the sole reason as not to negatively impact the “volunteer spirit” of the BRVFC.

050118 Project plan pros roll into BRVFC not vice versa excerpt

The second attachment to this email can be found here:  050118 Collaborative Agreement

The following is an excerpt from the Collaborative Agreement, again noting that it will be the volunteer organization that is to be supplemented by the career staff and not vice versa, and that further, this authoritative structure is “understood through discussions with the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors (Pearson), the Township Manager (Tieperman) and Assistant Township Manager (Bortnichak) and that BRVFC will be the primary fire service organization within the Township”:

050118 Collaborative Agreement Scope excerpt

May 2, 2018:  Overholt responds to the meeting request, noting that he was first made aware of the meeting on the previous Monday:

050218 Overholt can I please be included email

May 6, 2018:  “Can we trust Josh Overholt?”  Secure in his newfound authority with the Township, the BRVFC Vice President, Five-member board supporter, and former “Republican” candidate for Township Supervisor, Bill Kasper, sends a fabulously whiny and contradictory email seeking the head of Fire Chief Overholt on a platter.  Interestingly, this email was only sent to the Democrat members of the Board of Supervisors, John Pearson, Laurie Higgins, and Helene Calci, as well as Township Manager Tieperman and Assistant Manager Bortnichak.  Discussion below the email.

050618 can we trust josh1050618 can we trust josh2

The premise of the blog post Kasper is fretting about was that Staff was bullied into the presentation that was given to the public at the April 4 Special Fire and Emergency Services meeting. It is also a charge Supervisor Vagnozzi has made more than once from the dais.

That notorious blog post, which caused so much “drama,” can be found HERE.  That post, like this one, that was the result of a document dump from an RTK filed by your humble blogress.

Quizzo at the dive bar
Boom baby!  Strange but not a stranger.  Pearson and Kasper.

If anyone would know if Staff had been bullied, it would be a member of Staff.  So what exactly is Kasper saying here?  Is he saying that Overholt wasn’t bullied?  If so, how would Kasper know? Or is he just upset that Overholt is exposing the behind-the-scenes genesis of the new policy, albeit in the smallest way possible–with a simple little Facebook “Like?”  According to the sensitive Kasper, a mere Facebook “Like” rises to the level of insubordination.

The reality of what’s going on with Township Fire Policy is actually worse than mere bullying: not only was staff bullied by the Board (as has been meticulously documented in this post), but Staff was implored by the majority of the Board to let BRVFC have an equal–or even a more dominant—voice in setting Township Fire policy.  This directive was given with complete disregard of the Township’s documented history with the BRVFC organization.  No methods for accountability or improving the performance of BRVFC have been put into place; on the contrary, instead of being held accountable for their past performance issues, BRVFC has been put in a position of leadership over the Township’s paid staff and the Township Fire Chief, even if that leadership is only based on their political connections.

One can assume from the documents reviewed thus far in the timeline that Overholt simply refused to play ball on the new BRVFC-friendly policy, which is perfectly logical since the new policy is actually an 180 degree reversal of the Fire policy Overholt had written and was following back in January.  Hence the need for the “come to Jesus” meeting documented in the April 10 email between Bortnichak and Tieperman.

May 7, 2016:  At the May 7 Board of Supervisors Meeting, the idea of the Steering Committee finally makes the agenda.  Even though the leadership of BRVFC is already “steering the ship,” the Board has to make things “official” for public appearances.  Manager Tieperman and Assistant Manager Bortnichak are to be appointed in favor of the Township, but Overholt, the person in charge of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, is left out.  BRVFC must vote on who their member on the Steering Committee will be.  For more on the May 7 BOS meeting, see HERE.

May 10, 2018:  Overholt gets hit again for being mean to BRVFC, this time from BRVFC President Locasale, who has a much lighter touch than BRVFC’s Vice President Bill Kasper.  Kasper can’t be seen as the only one complaining to the Township about Overholt.  That wouldn’t look good.  Sure, the long-suffering BRVFC guys “took it in stride,” but they needed to tattle to Overholt’s superiors anyway.

051018 Pfizer

May 14, 2018:  Email from BRVFC President Locasale presents all of the policies they have written so far, plus asks when will they be briefing the Board of Supervisors. 

Note well, Gentle Reader:  The creation of all of these documents were to fall under the purview of the Steering Committee which has not yet been established.

051418 May 16 meeting

Collaborative Agreement (discussed elsewhere in this post) is here:  050118 Collaborative Agreement

Attachment F (discussed elsewhere in this post) is here:  041618 Attachment F

Staff integration Timeline can be found here: 051418 DRAFT Staff Integration Timeline

May 16, 2018:  Assistant Manager Bortnichak taps the brakes just a tiny bit in his response to Locasale’s latest email request for a meeting. The fact that Bortnichak sent this response to Manager Tieperman for his approval first, suggests that Staff is indeed walking on eggshells with regard to dealings with BRVFC and possibly, that any sort of push back from Staff against BRVFC would result in some unhappiness from their bosses on the Board of Supervisors.

051418 is this acceptable051518 Bryan taps the brakes

May 17, 2018:  BRVFC President Joe Locasale sends an email to Chairman Pearson, Tieperman and Bortnichak (copying BRVFC Chief Daywalt and someone else unknown) informing Tieperman and Bortnichak that he’s “sure the resolution appointing the both of you will need to be amended to have two representatives from BRVFC.”

He’s not asking for another member from BRVFC to be appointed to the Steering Committee; he’s telling them to make it happen.  

051718 Steering committee needs one more member

May 18, 2018:  Assistant Manager Bortnichak sends an email to all Township career firefighters and qualified Public Works employees that driver training is available on all BRVFC equipment.  Fire Chief Overholt is copied on the directive to his own Department.

051818 Driver training

May 19, 2018:  BRVFC President Locasale submits drawings for the Black Rock Fire House remodel to Tieperman and Bortnichak.

051918 Drawings for Oaks FH email

Drawings attached to the email can be found here:  051918 BRVFC Temp UPT Off o

May 21, 2018:  The May 21 Board of Supervisors meeting is dominated by the discussion of the Steering Committee, specifically, the addition of another member, who, according to the Democrats, cannot, under any circumstances, be the guy most qualified to be on the Steering Committee: Fire Chief Josh Overholt.  The highlight of this meeting is some rather inept tap dancing on the part of Chairman John Pearson who, when confronted by Supervisor Vagnozzi, and members of the public about why Overholt is being excluded from the Steering Committee, and by Barker for letting construction on the BRVFC Oaks station progress without Board knowledge, gets caught admitting that he has been meeting with the members of BRVFC “on his own personal time.”  The details of this meeting are documented HERE in a post that went “viral” thanks to a share from PhillyFireNews.

Backed into a corner by the two Republicans, Pearson and BRVFC get their first “no” of the year and the extra member of the Steering Committee is voted down.

As an aside, the whole concept of the Steering Committee has only grown in its ridiculousness in my esteem upon the evaluation of the contents of the RTK.  The Democrats on the Board and BRVFC leadership have consistently shown the same utter disregard for transparency throughout this entire process.  I always suspected that the existence of the “Steering Committee” was simply window dressing for the public, so that it wouldn’t look like the Township has simply abdicated authority over the Townships FEMS policy.  Given the contents of the RTK examined in this post, it certainly appears that the Township has done precisely that, at the explicit direction of at least some members of the Board of Supervisors.

June 2018 Momentum continues to build

June 1, 2018:  For the first time, BRVFC President Locasale acknowledges that there are two other Supervisors on the Board and that it’s time to “brief” them on all of the progress that has been made behind the scenes on this—progress that was made well before the “Steering Committee” has even held their first meeting.

060118 Get Phil and Al on board

June 4, 2018:  A regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors.  There is no mention of FEMS at this meeting.  For a full write-up of this meeting, see HERE.

June 5, 2018:  Assistant Manager Bortnichak responds to BRVFC President Locasale’s June 1 email.  He does not see any need for the Supervisors to take action.

060518 no need to involve the Board

June 14, 2018:  Assistant Manager Bortnichak requests a meeting with an engineer from D’Huy, Manager Tieperman and BRVFC President Locasale to discuss construction of the Township’s new firehouse.

061418 DHuy Proposal email

June 18, 2018:  A regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors.  When a fee waiver is requested on some minor electrical work at the BRVFC Oaks Firehouse, Supervisor Barker asks why the Board has not been briefed on work that is apparently progressing there.  Barker also asks why the Board hasn’t been briefed on anything that’s occurring with regard to FEMS.  Assistant Manager Bortnichak responds that they are just moving forward with the Board approved milestones.

Interestingly, in an avoidable political mess entirely of Pearson’s own making, it is also at this meeting that the Rec Center issue blows up.

For a full write-up of this meeting, see HERE.

June 19, 2019:  The day after the ham-handed handling of the Rec Center issue, an engineer from D’Huy meets with Assistant Township Manager Bortnichak.  In the course of their day, the engineer says that the location for the central station seemed “very convenient” and that it was “true green space.”  He then immediately mentions going inside the Rec Center and talks about finding good uses for that building. This raises the question:  where, exactly is this centrally located, “convenient” “true green space”  located?  It was always contemplated that the Township’s firehouse (when and if it was ever to be built) would be part of the Black Rock Municipal Campus.  The mention of the Rec Center in the same paragraph makes me wonder if that is still the plan.

 

061918 DHuy eng email Rec Center

June 20, 2018:  In response to Supervisor Barker’s June 18 request for information on what is going on in the Township he is tasked with governing, Manager Tieperman requests copies of the minutes of the Executive Committee, which has met three times at this point.  These minutes, however, which are discussed under a separate heading below, do not even scratch the surface of all that has been going on behind the scenes with FEMS that Barker doesn’t know about.

062018 Minutes request from BRVFC

062018 Here are the minutes

June 21, 2018:  Overholt sends a training notice to all Township fire personnel announcing the availability of water rescue training.  Even though the Township is bordered on two sides by water, and the Chairman of the Board owns and operates a kayak rental business on the Schuylkill Canal, the Chairman’s handpicked primary FEMS service provider, BRVFC, currently has no personnel qualified to perform water rescues.

062118 Water Rescue

June 22, 2018:  Assistant Manager Bortnichak forwards the D’Huy proposal to the Township to BRVFC President Locasale and hour and twenty minutes after receiving it, and before anyone at the Township has a chance to look it over/

062218 Email from DHuy forwarded to Locasale for review

Executive Steering Committee Meeting Minutes

The RTK covered in this post was filed at the end of June.  The scope of the RTK covered the minutes of three Executive Steering Committee Meetings, the very first of which was held on June 6, 2018, long after most of the heavy lifting on these new policy initiatives had been completed.

The minutes themselves are, however,  mildly instructive as to ascertaining priorities in the Firefighting services in Upper Providence.  For example, from the first meeting on June 6, two standing subcommittees were created and membership was appointed:

The all important Box Assignments Subcommittee…..060618 Steering Cmty Excerpt Box Assignment  ….and the only slightly less important New Central Station Design Subcommittee

060618 Steering Committee Excerpt New Station Design subcommittee

By the June 14 Meeting, Two new Subcommittees were identified:  Training and Standardization.  Apparently, nobody was lining up for these two committees, which only have to do with, you know, actually fighting fires.  These subcommittees were still unmanned after the June 20 meeting as well.

061418 Other, less important subcommittees assignments061418 Other, less important subcommittees assignments2

060618 Exec Steering Cmty Minutes

061418 Exec Steering Cmty Minutes

062018 Exec Steering Cmty Minutes

July 2018:  Overholt Resigns

July 16, 2018:  At a regular Board of Supervisors Meeting, the Board moves into Executive Session to discuss a severance package.  It is later revealed that the severance package is for Fire Chief Josh Overholt.  At the time, I speculated (HERE) on why I thought Overholt resigned.  At that point, this RTK had not yet been fulfilled.

After reviewing this information, it’s really a wonder that he stayed as long as he did.

Here’s your ticket pack your bag
Time for jumpin’ overboard
The transportation is here
Close enough but not too far,
Maybe you know where you are
Fightin’ fire with fire      – Talking Heads 

A final Reminder:

1 BuckStopsHere

hot
I’m just an ordinary guy.  Burning down the house.

Sunblock: PA’s Worthless Sunshine Laws

Remember that time John Pearson and Pearson’s Girls® thumbed their collective noses at Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Laws?

“Oh, which time is that?” You may be wondering.  “There are so instances of questionable transparency.”

I’m talking about the most recent time, at the July 16 meeting, where John Pearson admitted, for the record and from prepared notes, that not only had a majority of the Board deliberated, but had decided, to take action on the future of the Upper Providence Rec Center.  As a refresher, here is Pearson’s speech (emphasis mine):

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

You may recall (and if you don’t, please see HERE for a refresher) that both of Pearson’s Girls® doubled down on this statement, confirming, in fact, that not only had they deliberated upon the matter outside of a public meeting, but they had decided upon it as well.  I believe Laurie Higgins’ statement to that effect was that it was a “no-brainer.”

Walking on Sunshine

Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records (OOR) defines the Sunshine Act thusly:

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

The Office of Open Records (OOR) does not enforce the Sunshine Act, but it does provide training on the law. Following are answers to the most frequently asked questions the OOR receives regarding the Sunshine Act.

The entire statute can be found at the link in the block quote and some FAQ’s can be found at the PA Office of Open Records website, HERE.

So if not the Office of Open Records, who DOES enforce Sunshine Laws and how does one go about getting them enforced? And what are the penalties?

From the FAQ section of the PA OOR website:

What legal remedies are available for violations of the Sunshine Act?

Section 710.1(c) of the Sunshine Act permits anyone attending a public meeting to object to a perceived violation at any time during the meeting. Additionally, for state agencies, a member of the public can file a complaint with the Commonwealth Court. For local agencies, a member of the public can file a complaint with the local Court of Common Pleas. Any complaint must be filed within 30 days of the public meeting in which the alleged infraction occurred. If the alleged infraction occurred during a closed meeting, the complaint must be filed within 30 days of the discovery of the infraction, as long as it is no longer than one year from when the meeting was held. The person alleging the infraction bears the burden of proof. See Smith v. Township of Richmond, 623 Pa. 209, 223 (Pa. 2013) (“[I]n view of the presumption of regularity and legality that obtains in connection with proceedings of local agencies, the challenger [of an agency meeting] bears the burden to prove a violation”) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

Are there penalties for violating the Sunshine Act?

Yes. In addition to being assessed attorneys’ fees, any member of an agency who is found to have willfully violated the act can face criminal charges and subject to fines of $100 to $1,000 for the first offense, and $500 to $2,000 for the second offense.

I called the Commonwealth Court last week about filing a Sunshine Law Violation complaint, and they directed me to the Montgomery County Prothonotary Office.  The gentleman who answered the phone told me that in order to file a complaint about a Sunshine Law Violation, it would have to have occurred within 30 days of the filing, it would have to be in a standard legal format with appropriate cover sheets (pick the correct form from here), and I would also have to pay a $290 filing fee.

When I confirmed that I, as a lay-member of the constituent public, would be responsible for producing a legal filing and paying a $290 filing fee in order to prosecute a violation that would generate, in all probability, a $100 fine (and no guarantee of recovering the filing fee), I asked, is that really the way it works?

The gentlemen from the Montgomery County Prothonotary’s Office said, “Unfortunately, that’s correct.”

As I mentioned in another blog post (HERE), it’s up to the public to keep an eye on our local elected officials.  There is no government watchdog organization reviewing clips of meetings for Sunshine Law violations; nor does it seem as if there is a really effective way for an ordinary citizen to demand accountability of his elected officials without an initial outlay of 3X the penalty.

So if there are no penalties, what is incentive is there for your local elected officials to remain honest and transparent?

Yeah.  I’m not coming up with anything either.

As a former elected official, I find it rather amazing that there is no real remedy in place for this.  Throughout my tenure, everyone made such a business of compliance with Sunshine Laws: our statewide Association PSATS (the Pennsylvania State Association for Township Supervisors), Township Managers and Township Solicitors.  We always took care to avoid violations, though it never stopped our political enemies from making those accusations by implication.  Back in those days the opposition relied on innuendo through Facebook, and on a couple of memorable occasions, allegedly hiring folks (or was it State paid overtime?) to follow us around after meetings.  Clearly, they came up empty, or you surely would have heard about it since Pearson himself attended the lions share of Board meetings in 2016 and 2017, and Higgins joined him for most of 2017.  But back in those days, they didn’t have the luxury of sitting back and watching the Board Chairman admit, from notes he prepared himself, that he violated Sunshine Laws and then have two other Board members confirm it.  Back in those days, if you wanted controversy, you had to create it out of thin air.

bonfireIt is one thing to try to convince folks that there is smoke where there is no fire; it is quite another to throw a log on an already roaring bonfire.

It seems that there should be some mechanism for the voting public to have these claims investigated by a non-partisan review board without the extraordinary fee structure.

On the other hand, without the fee structure, how would any organization be able to manage what would surely be an overwhelming the case load?  How would that oversight board be able to figure out which cases were legitimate and which were simply politically motivated frivolities?  How would such a government board remain impartial and objective?  Answer: they couldn’t and they wouldn’t.

So we are right back where we started a few weeks ago:  it’s up to YOU, the voting public, to keep yourself informed about local issues and hold your leaders accountable.

This is not the Transparency you were looking for

Perhaps a little refresher on the promises made by the political action committee, Upper Providence First, in service to expanding the Board. 2016:mullin fb

upt1st Zimmerman 110716

UPT1st1107TransparencyUpperProvidence 1st 1101716 FB

“Transparency” is a catchy campaign buzz word, isn’t it?

Oh, and hey, and here’s a fun little letter to the editor from John Pearson himself, stumping for his new position by promising more transparency while hurling thin accusations and outright lies:Pearson Letter to Mercury 110316

Here is Upper Providence First President, Jim White promising more transparency with the five member board:

White Letter to Mercury110716

Jim White, a Republican Alternate Delegate to the RNC, was unanimously voted in as the Board’s new Vacancy Chairman this year by a majority Democrat Board.

The full letters are linked below, as well as my response to Pearson’s accusations.  The Mercury would not let me defend myself against White’s accusations, stating that as an elected official, he could say whatever he wanted about me, but I could not call out anything he said as an outright falsehood, and they refused to print my response.

LETTERS_ Vote ‘YES_ to expand Upper Providence Board of Supervisors

LETTERS_ Too much whining by ex-Upper Providence supervisor

LETTER_ Upper Providence needs expanded board

Here’s another refresher from just last year, when the “Fresh Perspectives” team ran for office.  2017:

1MailersideB2MailerSideB

And let’s not forget that both John Pearson and Upper Providence First have some transparency issues of their own regarding campaign finance, as was detailed in THIS POST from earlier this year.

A Trip Down Transparency Lane

So now that we’re caught up on 2016 and 2017, let’s take a little trip down Transparency Lane in  2018 so far and see how the new Board has fared.

At the 2/5/18 Meeting, John Pearson neglects to read the names of the newly appointed members of the Act 209 Committee in a public meeting, one of whom is Joe Haney, Helene Calci’s husband.

At the 2/5/18 Meeting again, John Pearson says that he does not want the Township Solicitor to appear at the Zoning Hearing Board (contra the recommendation of the Planning Commission) to oppose the Cellco/Verizon cell tower application saying he wants them to be able to “do their thing,” this despite the prior Board recommending it.  Higgins and Calci vote right along with this without posing any questions, suggesting they had been briefed outside of the meeting.  The reasoning for this is ostensibly to let the Zoning Hearing Board come to an objective conclusion, however, Pearson does not disclose to the residents at the meeting that his long-time girlfriend/fiancée/common-law wife, Gail Latch, is a member of the Zoning Hearing Board.

At the 2/5/18 Meeting again, the Pearson, Higgins and Calci are adamantly against implementing a centralized Township ambulance, while all claiming they need more time to “study” the issue. How could they be so solidly against an issue that they admit they don’t know enough about to make a decision?

no sunshineAt the 3/19/18 Meeting, the issue of the Duhovis Farm preservation was discussed.  Pearson had voted against preserving this piece of property in his capacity as a Township Supervisor twice before and had now done an about-face on the issue, primarily because Higgins brought the issue back before the Board after it had been denied in October 2017.  Calci had no questions, but was a solid yes.  How did Pearson get from two previous “No’s” to “Yes” when no significant changes to the proposal were made?

At the 4/4/18 Meeting and at the 4/16/18 Meeting, the Special Meeting on Fire and EMS and the regular Board meeting immediately following it, the Democrats unanimously pushed for the idea of a Medic Responder over a Centralized Township Ambulance.  In the two solid years that the previous Board had 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, miraculously, there weren’t any questions on the Medic Responder service from Pearson, Higgins, or Calci.

In fact, the entire Fire an EMS policy appeared to be dictated by the Democrats, who had no questions on the policies after asking for more time to “study” the issue only two months earlier.

At the 4/4/18 Meeting again, the slide show that was presented was introduced as “Staff’s Recommendations,” however, the slide show included a photograph specifically to illustrate Pearson’s usual morality tale, suggesting he had at least some input into “Staff’s” presentation.  And, as a later RTK filed by your humble Blogress revealed, there were multiple changes made from Staff’s original and the Slide Show that was passed off as “Staff’s.”  There were also emails between Staff and Pearson suggesting Pearson’s final approval was necessary.  Those differences were detailed HERE.

It should be noted that the Township’s Fire Chief has since resigned.

At the 4/16/18 Meeting, Calci and Higgins both take the unprecedented step of reading from prepared “signing statements” to approve the new Fire and EMS policy.  It was in response to these coordinated signing statements that Vagnozzi suggested that Staff had been bullied behind the scenes on the particulars of the new policy.

At the 5/21/18 Meeting, Pearson spends a large part of the meeting digging himself out of a hole to explain why he is having conversations with the Black Rock Fire Company “on his own personal time” about Township Business, specifically, improvements to the BRVFC Building that have not been discussed, much less approved by the Board.

At the 5/21/18 Meeting again, the Democrats present a united front on preventing the obvious inclusion of Township’s Fire Chief from holding a spot on the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night. 

At the 6/4/18 Meeting, Pearson again gets himself into a jam, having apparently talked to residents about the Spares Lane Development, skirts right up to the line of pay to play, then suggests that they have discussion on the particulars of the development somewhere other than at a Board Meeting.

At the 6/18/18 Meeting, yet another slide show is presented to the public as “Staff Prepared” regarding the future of the Rec Center.  Prior to this meeting, Rec Center members were emailed about the impending closing.  Barker notes that Public Works is scheduled to perform work at the Rec Center, but he has not been told what it is, nor has any public discussion taken place about the closing of the fitness center prior to emailing members about the closure.

At the 6/18/18 Meeting again, upon discussion of a fee waiver for improvements to BRVFC’s Oaks Fire Station, it becomes apparent that Barker is still not aware of the scope of the work that has been approved to move forward.

Which brings us to the 7/16/18 Meeting, where Pearson, Calci and Higgins all admit that they have had a discussion and made a decision about spending money on the Rec Center.

Some of these issues may have indeed been handled “by the book,” but surely, transparency was lacking.

While the 7/16 meeting provides the most egregious example of Sunshine Law violations—it’s basically a three-way confession—there is an established pattern of non-transparency throughout this Board’s short tenure.

But so what?

As we discussed earlier, PA’s Sunshine Laws have no teeth and nothing is going to happen to any of them, unless some wealthy resident feels like rolling the dice of justice and betting $290 with the Democrat-controlled County Courthouse. The worst this Board can expect is more unpleasant public meetings.

And maybe that’s enough.

More power to the Fembots

The question really is for Calci and Higgins.  Aside from the Duhovis Land Preservation vote, most of these controversies and votes listed above have been in service to Pearson’s own Personal Agenda of Petty Retribution and Political Favor Granting.  So far, either by their silence, their votes, or their words, both of Pearson’s Girls® have been 100% reliable and unquestioning yes votes for his agenda. As a consequence, they have also been exposed by Pearson’s sloppy political maneuvering and have had to take the heat for it at Board meetings, either from the public or from other members of the Board.

Is it worth it?  Is this why you worked so hard to win office?  To get beat up publicly for Pearson’s incompetence?

HigginsDoorKnockingIs this why Laurie Higgins spent the better part of her year last year knocking on doors while Pearson sat back at the Fitz, “holding down the fort?”  I think people sometimes forget that Higgins was actually the winner of the election last year, yet for some reason, both her and Calci seem to think they owe Pearson their unquestioning loyalty.  Higgins rarely speaks during meetings and Calci usually offers concilatory platitudes or excuses when Pearson’s agenda blows up.

Speaking from experience, I know this much to be true:  If you are doing municipal government correctly, partisanship and party affiliation shouldn’t have much of a bearing on the decision-making process.  There shouldn’t only be consensus on small things like grant applications, approval of minutes and EDUs.  If you are doing municipal government right, and operating with the best interests of the Township at heart, there should be more agreement amongst the entire Board on the big policy questions as well.

I get that Higgins and Calci are new to the Board, but municipal government is not rocket science.  They should have figured it out by now.  They should be doing their own homework, coming to their own conclusions, and speaking in their own voices, not submitting to Pearson’s assertions of “experience,” most of which involved his own conformity with the majority Republicans.  Pearson was never a leader on previous Boards, and if he did disagree with the Republicans he sat with, he was never effective at convincing anyone of his point of view.  In all the time I served with him, John Pearson never once threw a “no” vote, though he now seems spitefully hell-bent on undoing most of the good work for which he he voted as part of prior Boards.

CaptureThe residents of Upper Providence presumably voted for five points of view when they voted to expand the Board.  So far, we are only getting one point of view:  John Pearson’s.  And that is not the fault of Pearson, it’s the fault of Pearson’s Girls® and the unfettered support they have given to his agenda. Any meaningful public discussion of consequential Township issues has been effectively silenced due to their complicit participation in deliberations outside of the public eye, either as part of Pearson’s Secret Monday Meetings or elsewhere, and then made law by their meek compliance on the dais every first and third Monday.

So how much longer will Pearson’s Girls® continue to let themselves be controlled by him?

Perhaps when they figure that out, we’ll finally get that five member board we were promised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wreck Creation II – Electric Boogaloo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exact words
Those weren’t your exact words.

Barker asks, “Well then who did?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Decided.
We decided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calci then doubles down on those comments and says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearson just mis-spoke, is all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 – Agenda Item #3 – Recreation Center FAQs

The $1,250,000 Transfer from Reserves

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

Let me say that again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troubling.

Irreconcilable Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Other Board Business

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

Let the Sun Shine

Image result for let the sunshine 40 year old virgin

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

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

All.

The.

Time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exact words conseq
Were those your exact words, Greg?

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

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

UPT Board Meeting Notes 6/18/18 Episode 10: Wreck Creation

The June 18 meeting is another marathon session of 2 hours and 15 minutes, however, I’m beginning to see the benefit for Pearson to doggedly continue with these self-indulgent morality tales at the beginning of each meeting:  First, it allows him to believe he is a wise, but benevolent, leader of the community, imparting wisdom from his lofty heights on to his guileless, but nevertheless worthy, subjects.  Second, it buys him time, however short, to wallow in his illusion of competent leadership before reality comes crashing down on his head.  This week it comes during public comment at 4:30 seconds in.

Cell-abrasion

Tom Grasso, Providence Corners HOA President, approaches to remark upon the Cellco decision by the Zoning Hearing Board earlier in the week (for background on this issue, see HERE and HERE).

I’ll let his comments speak for themselves:

I’d like to take this time to remind the Board of Supervisors of the responsibility they have to all the members and residents of Upper Providence Township.  That responsibility is to do what is in the best interests of all residents, not just to benefit those that maybe are a handful of their friends.  There was recently a use variance application brought forth for the installation of 100’ cell tower on a property zoned residential.  The Township Code clearly states, “Communication towers are prohibited in a residential zone.”  The Code also references a 75’ height restriction for structures in a residential area as well.

As is customarily the case, the Township Planning Commission reviewed the application.  I think it’s important that we refresh ourselves with the duties and purpose of the Planning Commission.  Quote:  “The Planning Commission’s members review the development proposals for the Township, work in conjunction with Planning & Zoning to determine a project’s feasibility, impact on the surrounding area, and traffic in compliance with Township codes.  The Planning Commission submits development plans with their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for approval.” End quote.  That’s directly from the Township’s website.

In this case, the Planning Commission did their work, reviewed the application and voted unanimously to recommend that this Board oppose the application that I am speaking of.  And on 10/16/2017, this Board did exactly that and voted unanimously to authorize the Township Solicitor to oppose the relief sought by the applicant in the Zoning Hearing Board case 2017-07, Cellco d/b/a Verizon Wireless, on behalf of the residents.  The applicant sought, and was granted, several continuances to delay their hearing, hoping to avoid the protests of residents.  They later approached this Board again, on 11/20/2017, with changes to their application, hoping that the Board would remove its opposition.  The Board sent them back to the Planning Commission to make their case.  In that meeting, Mr. Barker stated, that this Board rarely, almost never, goes against the recommendation of the Planning Commission for as long as he’s been on the Board.

The applicant again went before the Planning Commission, they reviewed the application, changes and all, and again, unanimously voted to recommend that the Board oppose the application.  However, on 2/5 of this year, surprisingly, in an unprecedented manner, this Board voted and decided to withdraw the Township’s opposition and go against the recommendation of their own Planning Commission.

Why would three brand new members only one month into their new roles, reverse a decision made only a few months prior and countermand the recommendation of their own Planning Commission without really knowing the facts of the situation?

It makes no sense to me.

Mr. Pearson said that he wanted to remain neutral, and was apt to let the hearing board do its job.  In this same Board of Supervisors meeting, Mr. Pearson said to me, and other residents of the community, that we were free to make our case to the Zoning Hearing Board.  However, on multiple occasions, the Zoning Hearing Board solicitor, Mr. Khoury, prevented residents from asking follow up questions of new information presented by witnesses, stating, we already had a chance to ask a question.  He even prevented one of the Board members, who eventually voted against the application, from asking questions during the hearing when the member’s questions started to get into the proof of hardship.

Mr. Pearson, other Board members, you ran for your seats in 2017 on a platform of transparency. At the time, I believe you cited an inappropriate relationship between having a Director of Parks and Recreation be employed by the Township when that person was married to a Township Supervisor.  However, members of the Board have failed to disclose to the residents their own conflicts of interest.  For example, Mr. Pearson voted to remove opposition, but failed to inform anyone that his long-time companion, with whom he shares a residence with, is a member of the Zoning Hearing Board, and voted in favor of the application.

Mr. Bresnan stated in the 2/5 meeting, that the applicant had the burden of proof to prove a hardship.  I sat through every part of that meeting and searched for evidence of a hardship for either the property owner nor the cell phone company, but none existed.  It’s shocking that our neighbors in Lower Providence Township came upon the exact same situation, the exact same lawyer, the exact same issues, providing the exact same evidence, and yet their residents were protected by voting unanimously against, and denying the application.

However, our Township, and our Zoning Hearing Board, in spite of the applicant not proving that any hardship existed, voted to approve this application.

It’s puzzling to me why the applicant was not instructed to research other sites that within the search criteria that were not zoned residential.  For example, one of the members of the Zoning Hearing Board, who also sits on the Spring-Ford Area School Board, said that if they had contacted the School District, the School District would be open to discussions of a possible additional source of revenue.  If the applicant must prove that all avenues were exhausted, that was not proven during this period.

I’m not against progress, I’m not against cellular technology.  I recognize the advances that are being made, the infrastructure that is needed to meet these growing demands.  However, cell towers do not belong in the residential area, period.  And I know you all agree with me, because you wrote it into our Township Code.  There are plenty of other areas that could accommodate such requests. By your same logic, I should be able to get relief from the Township code for just about anything, including a 100’ cell tower on my own property, simply because I want the rental income, because one day, I’m going to retire as well.  Everyone’s actions have consequences, and I’d like to remind you of that.  I only urge you to do the right thing for all the residents of this community, rather than just for a small group of well-connected cronies.

Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan then attempts to do a little damage control on behalf of the majority of the Board, stating that the Planning Commission’s recommendation is not absolute and that essentially, the Board wants to remain independent from the Zoning Hearing Board, but he refuses to wade into the admittedly deep waters of Grasso’s cronyism accusation.

Barker disagrees with Bresnan, states that the Board sent the Solicitor to oppose this application to defend our ordinance, and that the Planning Commission recommended opposing the application on those grounds.  He also notes that at one time, this Board was following the Planning Commission recommendations and now they are not.

Pearson does not address any of this.

Conflit of interestAs an aside, I would note that the member of the Zoning Hearing Board of which Mr. Grasso spoke is Gail Latch, who is not only John Pearson’s long-time companion, but was elevated to the status of “fiancé” back in 2010 upon his election that year, in order for her to qualify for Township health care benefits.

Another resident comes up (his name is not picked up by the microphones) and asks a few follow up questions about the Zoning Hearing Board decision, and says, “Well it seems that the building goes against the Code.  So who is defending the Code?”

Bresnan attempts to make a case that with this action, the Zoning Hearing Board is actually defending the Code by deciding which applications will be getting relief.

Pillow TalkIn answer to that, there is some discussion as to whether the decision will be appealed and who can be a party to the appeal process.   I hope the residents decide to appeal.

Exit question:  If the entire purpose of withdrawing the Township Solicitor from opposing this application was to maintain the independence of the Zoning Hearing Board, how exactly, is that independence accomplished when John Pearson, the Chairman of the Board, is living with, and “engaged” to Gail Latch, a member of the Zoning Hearing Board?

Spares Lane

Following the discussion regarding this development at the previous meeting, (see HERE) Attorney Mike Clement presents the applicant’s proposal to the Board:  the Developer will pay fees in lieu of development in the amount of $55,000, with $15,000 being used to widen Spares Lane for approximately 215 feet.  The Developer will place the remaining $40,000 in escrow, which they will give to the Township for Spares Lane improvements at the Township’s discretion.  But if the Township decides that Spares Lane needs a mill and overlay (which it does), the Developer can do it cheaper than the Township due to prevailing wage, and they will use money from the established $40,000 escrow for that.

Vagnozzi has talked to the residents and wants to be sure that any paving and or widening will blend with the existing lawns, and that the Township will be able to direct placement of trees.  Vagnozzi wants a commitment from the Board to look at widening the intersection of Spares and 29.

Wreck-creation

There have been some decisions made by (at least three members of) the Board with regard to the future of programming at the Township Recreation Center.  Those changes have apparently been communicated to current members of the Rec Center, but not the Township population at large (not even in the recently mailed Township Newsletter, but more on that later).

Once again, a “staff-prepared” power point is used in service to distance the Board from their own decisions, and, once again, Township Manager Tim Tieperman is tasked with presentation.

I would guess that for most residents of Upper Providence, this meeting is the first time they are hearing anything about “programming changes” at the Rec Center.  Tieperman begins by dispelling rumors that the Rec Center is closing, the proceeds to lay out a “vision” for the Rec Center going forward.

Articulating a “vision” for an entire department in the Township is a pretty bold move when two of the five Supervisors have obviously been shut out of any of these discussions.  But lets put that thought on hold for a moment and see what “staff” has come up with.

The format and approach is similar to that of the special Fire and EMS presentation last April:

  • Department Re-Org
  • Challenges/Barriers
  • Establishment of Goals
  • Reviewing Staff Recommendations
  • Proposed Roadmap and Milestones

A selection of slides from the presentation follows:

1 Rec

2 Rec

Tieperman talked about the Center’s focus on fitness oriented in a fitness saturated market and the limitation of the facility’s size and scope as compared to other fitness center choices in the private sector.  He also talked about the proliferation of private sector competition and the Township’s desire not to compete with private businesses.

Tieperman acknowledged that the Township needs to improve its marketing but this would have minimal impact on the competitive dynamic.  A feasibility study for the Rec Center was completed 11 years ago targeting 4% resident participation in the Rec Center.  The ultimate goal is to reallocate the $417,000 Rec Center budget to touch on more people–the goal being 15% to 20% of the population.

3 Rec

4 Rec

There was much discussion on the existing private businesses located both within the Township (those facilities highlighted in yellow in the slide above) and within two miles of the Township’s border.  A visual of local fitness centers via Google Earth is illustrated in the graphic below:

5 Rec

6 Rec

Remember that $360,740 expense number in the slide above.  It comes up several times in the ensuing discussion.

The 10 Step Goals of the Restructuring are as follows:

8 Rec9 Rec10 Rec11 Rec12 Rec13 Rec14 Rec15 Rec16 Rec17 Rec

 

Township Reccomendations follow:

18 Rec19 Rec20 Rec21 Rec

22 RecAt the close of the presentation, Pearson reiterates that the Rec Center is not closing, they are merely re-purposing the space to serve a broader demographic (my word, not his) of residents.  It is not, Pearson repeats, about the money.

This is an interesting sentiment coming from Pearson, who spent the better part of 2012, my first year on the Board of Supervisors, trying to convince me that the Rec Center, which had just opened in June of 2011, needed to be run like a business and that not only was then-Rec Director Sue Barker running it inefficiently, but it was losing money hand over fist.  Pearson had the finance director produce reports backing up his assertion, which included expenses like heating, cooling, air conditioning, maintenance and internet.  As I examined these reports, I asked him to explain how the accounting for these facilities expenses was handled for the Administration Building and the Public Works Building.  Those expenses, it turns out, were dumped into a “building fund” and not counted against the budgetary operating costs of the Township’s other departments.

Apparently Pearson believed that Park and Rec was the only department in the Township that needed to show a profit and the Rec Center (a building approved and constructed during his term on the Board of Supervisors) the only building that had to cover its operating costs.  This could either be a strongly held conviction of Pearson’s, or just another facet of his long-standing personal feud with Sue Barker.  Since his grudging resentment of Sue Barker’s township employment, and not the profitability of the Rec Center, was one of the centerpieces of Pearson’s 2007, 2009, and 2017 campaigns, I will let readers draw their own conclusions.

Pearson then continues with, “Recreation will always be an expense, and we want to spend it wisely.”

Well, yes.  Every service that the Township provides is an expense, from road maintenance to fire and police protection, to sewer, to planning, zoning and codes enforcement.  Park and Rec is no exception, though it does have the most ability to offset those expenses with funds other than taxes.  And the expenditure of tax dollars should always be done wisely.

reccntPearson then opens up the floor for questions, and the first resident (whose name I cannot discern on the video) asks about which programs are going to replace the ones they are getting rid of?  When Pearson says he doesn’t know, it sounds like a laugh track from a 1980’s sitcom.  As he stammers through a typical Pearson non-explanation explanation (“It’s like….you know….ehhhm”) he eventually sputters out that it’s a timing issue based upon the expiration of the leases for the fitness equipment.  Our resident then follows up wanting to know that since the Township identified Marketing as a problem, what will they now be doing different?  As a five year member of the Rec Center, she points out that there are a bunch of people who regularly hang out in the playground area and there is not even a Community Bulletin Board announcing what programs are available.

Tieperman goes through a list of potential programming, (book clubs, trail days, mother-daughter tea parties, park clean-up days, photography, nature study etc.) and by my count, less than half of these will utilize the space at the Rec Center currently being occupied by the fitness area and even fewer will be able to generate any revenue to offset the costs of this programming.  I’m not sure why the fitness center has to be shuttered to accomplish this expanded programming, and this question is never really addressed.

The resident then says, so really the whole purpose of this is to say that the fitness area is being discontinued.

Before the next resident approaches, Barker notes that Public Works is scheduled to come in and do “some kind of work” on the facility, so obviously there is some kind of plan, but he hasn’t been told what that plan is. He also notes that some of the equipment is owned by the township, not all of it is rented and has there been any consideration given to just purchasing rather than renting equipment?

Tieperman answers that the decision has been made to get out of the fitness business and shouting begins from the audience.

In a surprise move, Pearson actually picks up his gavel and brings the meeting to order.

Resident Fred Schell then prompts some discussion on profitability, admonishing the Board to remember the Pottstown YMCA, whose mission was to provide health for the community and they shut down when it became all about money.

Resident Karen Vogel is amazed that the Township is unconcerned with the health of Township residents.  Vogel’s suggestions center on how the Township could save money or raise fees for membership.  She thinks it is a terrible mistake to get rid of the quality facility that the Township has.  If it’s not being marketed correctly, then correct it!

torchesWhen Pearson says, “It’s not about marketing,” the audience shouts him down in unison, “Yes it is!”

Claudia Chieffo wants to know if any of the Board members have seen any of the two petitions that have been going around, to which some of the Board members respond that they have seen one.  She then asks the question that has been burning in my mind: what is the breakdown of the $360,740 expense noted in the slide presentation.  She says, “I can break it down for you.  Its staff members.”  She says: Its people sitting around, talking on their phones, eating their dinner, not doing their jobs.  When she says that she has seen 5 staff members on duty when she is the only one in the building, Pearson responds that this is why they are switching gears.  And Chieffo says, “But why should we pay for your mismanagement?”

An answer to the budget question is not given at this time.

Pearson then states that the reason they are looking to shut this down is because nobody uses the facility, and the reason that the equipment is in good shape is because nobody uses it.  This is met with a chorus of boos from the audience and more shouting.

At this point, Bresnan jumps in and, doing the job Pearson doesn’t want to do, brings the meeting to order, admonishing Chieffo that she cannot resort to “grilling” the Board over the habits of individual employees.

When Chieffo asks why there has been no marketing done to date, specifically directing this question at Barker (Barker wants to know, “Why are you asking me?” since he is clearly not a party to this plan), Chieffo makes a statement (that the microphone does not fully pick up) about unrealistically expecting to turn the rec center around in three months after hiring new director, and Tieperman, then Bresnan, jump in and tells her that she can make comments, but not ask questions or expect answers.

Even though this exchange got overly heated, in fairness, the residents were just invited by John Pearson only minutes before to come up to the microphone with their questions, and the Board would try to answer them.

Chieffo then states that the new director started with the Township, went into her office, closed the door and never solicited opinions from any of the Rec Center members.  Chieffo takes her seat to applause from the audience.

reccntr2The next resident then approaches (microphone cuts out during her remarks and her name cannot be heard) and makes the case for the Silver Sneakers program.  When she states, “I know questions are not allowed….” Bresnan clarifies that what they are trying to avoid is the cross examination attacks against the Board.  She says again that none of them were asked their opinion, and that all of this was just sprung on them.  Tieperman states that they will continue the Silver Sneakers program in some form.

Next resident says “This facility is the best kept secret in the whole Township.”  Again: No marketing.  No warning. No input from current users.

Next resident Jeff (unintelligible due to mic cutout) asks, “Is this a final done deal, and is anything we say here tonight going to have any impact on the outcome?”  When he is met with a beat of silence, he implores the Board, “It’s ok!  Be honest!”

boo2Pearson says, “Yeah, I’ll be honest.  We need to go in a different direction here.  It’s not working.”  Which is met with another chorus of boos.

Pearson then says that even though there is a roomful of people here, there are 23,000 people in this township and that the small amount who have showed up to express upset about the Board’s decision just says to him that they are on the right path.

Resident Jeff says he’s not interested in any of the other programs they mentioned, he’s interested in the fitness center and he’s not going to waste any time talking because their decision is already made.

Resident Steve Taggart mentions that one of the first slides talks about ROI, but that Mr. Pearson said this is not about the money.  Pearson corrects him and says he said it wasn’t MAINLY about the money.  Taggart says that Townships are not about the ROI but about service to the residents.  Pearson says it’s not about the money but “being fiscally responsible is, okay?  We understand that Recreation is always going to be a loss; it’s always going to be an expense to the Township but we have to determine what’s best, how much money is best for the Township.”

Reccntr3Taggart notes that the facility wasn’t built to service 20% of the residents and if 20% of the residents came, they would be out of room. Pearson responds that that is why they are not going to spend marketing dollars on a facility that is lacking.

Barker jumps in and says that the feasibility study they had talked about servicing 4.4% of the residents and that they are currently servicing around 3%, which is not really bad for a facility of this size.  He states that he has been a resident of the Township for 38 years, and a member of the fitness center.  He then says that this is all moving way faster than he originally thought; his impression was that they were going to try to re-negotiate the leases on the equipment, not shut the fitness center down, and he’d like to see this come up for a vote on the next agenda.

This suggestion is met with hearty applause.

Barker clarifies for the audience, “This is the first public discussion we’ve had of this issue.” And Pearson responds, “Well, we’re not putting it up for a vote this evening.”

Calci, clearly unnerved because this is her project, says how good it is that we are having this open discussion.  If it’s so great, why is his the first time it’s being discussed in public?

Taggart then notes that all of the residents were not notified by letter, they were, in fact notified via email and he wonders how many just skipped over the email or didn’t read it.

I can tell Mr. Taggart that I personally did not receive an email, or a letter, and I would guess that only active members of the Rec Center even got notified of this change.  An easy way of doing this would perhaps have been by including it in the Township Newsletter, which seemed to have more than enough space to devote to marketing the Rec Center or communicating with residents.  But more on that later.

The next resident, Jerry, comes up (and curse these awful microphones because this guy brings up a lot of great points and I’d like to give him credit!) and once again asks the burning question:  Is the $360,740 of expense noted on the earlier slide attributed to the fitness center portion of the Rec Center, or the entire Rec Center?  How much of that expense is directly attributable to the fitness center?

That is an answer that nobody knows and the resident is told that they will get back to him on that.

The $87,000 in revenues however, is all membership fees.  Jerry’s point is that it is premature to close the only revenue generating component of the facility before they have even figured out what they are going to replace it with, or taken a survey of the residents.  What is your plan to offset the costs of running this building? He wants to know.

boo1When Pearson once again states that it’s not all about the money (a point that, no matter how often it has been repeated, has not been effectively delivered during this meeting) Jerry says, “I get that your number one metric is utilization.  I just don’t understand how closing down the fitness center is going to increase utilization.  You are almost at 3% now, it’s going to drop, because I know I’m not going to use this facility anymore.”

The next resident says it would be irresponsible to close the fitness center without doing a cost benefit analysis and I agree:  the fact that no one at the township could ascertain which portion of the $360,740 expense is attributable to the fitness center and which is attributable to the operation of the building in general suggests that, at best, this analysis is incomplete. 

But this, as previously mentioned, is typical of Pearson’s grasp of financial analysis and the costs of operating a facility.  Regardless of the programming going on at the Rec Center, there will always be a cost associated with heating, cooling, maintenance, power, internet and staffing this building.  Are all of those expenses solely attributable to the fitness center?  Or does it cost $360,740 just to run the fitness center portion of the building?  The ultimate question really is, how much of this cost disappears when the fitness center is shut down?  This seems a very basic and critical bit of financial analysis for which staff should have had an answer readily available, but did not.

Pearson’s final thought on the subject after insisting that the decision has already been made numerous times this evening, is to let everyone know that they will “take it all under advisement.  Who knows what can happen?”

What?? “Who knows what can happen?”  I will tell you who knows what can happen:  the Board of Supervisors.  It’s their decision and these residents have been told at least twice in this meeting that this decision has already been made.  Now Pearson is saying, that they will “take it under advisement” and “who knows what can happen?”

Has the decision to close the fitness center been made or not?

What we have here is a failure to communicate

So amid all of this head scratching and handwringing over marketing, and how to raise awareness of the Rec Center, coincidentally, the Township Newsletter hit my mailbox on the same day as this meeting.  higginsI note with interest that there is a quarter of page 2 devoted to Laurie Higgins’ self-promotion highlighting her participation in the Perkiomen Stream cleanup.  As I stated previously, Higgins’ hobbies are not township business and belong on her own personal pages, or more appropriately, her campaign site.

Far more disturbing, however, is page six of the Township newsletter, seen below:

 

Farm

On June 19, I sent the following email to the Board of Supervisors and the Township Manager:

email to township

I have not yet received a response to this email as of the date of this post.

Point of full disclosure:  The Township Newsletter historically included upcoming programming for the Park and Rec department, including classes, bus trips and events.  In the last year of my tenure on the Board, the Board made a decision to remove the Rec programming from the Township Newsletter and make that a separate communication piece.  That being said, the goal of the Board was to focus the Township newsletter on how township tax dollars were being spent and what business was before the Board of Supervisors.

I am not sure how supporting local farms qualifies as Township Business.  Especially since one of those farm stands, Fran and Ann’s Produce Stand, is owned by the Duhovis’s who have already benefitted from a significant infusion of Township taxpayer dollars earlier this year with the preservation of their farm (see HERE and HERE for more information).

Make no mistake, I’m all for supporting local farms and this is not a commentary on the owners of these establishments.  I just don’t think the Government should be in the business of picking and choosing winners and losers with regard to local, privately owned businesses.

Didn’t we just get through a huge discussion where one of the major points for discontinuing the fitness center was that the Township does not want to be competing with our local businesses? Yet here they are, promoting three privately-owned farm stands when there are not only several supermarkets in our township, but Produce Junction and several other smaller farms stands as well.  And while I’m sure that these three privately owned farms and their businesses can benefit from the added visibility that in-home advertising can deliver, there are numerous other businesses in the Township that could also benefit from this kind of free marketing. (What’s next, Support your local Township Dive Bar?)

Our Rec Center membership program could have benefitted from this type of marketing.  For that matter, the closing of the fitness center and an outline of the township’s Park and Rec roadmap could have been disclosed through this communication with residents, rather than the ham-handed email that was delivered to only a fraction of our residents and caused so much upset.

This information occupied a full page in our thrice-annual, taxpayer-funded, Township newsletter.  That space could have been used to communicate to taxpayers about Township business or how their tax dollars are being used on township projects.  Instead, it is being used to highlight pet projects and promote friends of the Board.

Not Drawn, but Quartered

On a recommendation from the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night, the Board is asked to grant the Black Rock Fire Company a fee waiver for minor electrical and mechanical alterations to the Black Rock Station.  Assistant Manager Bortnichak has been in contact with BRVFC’s president Joe LoCasale and says the fee waiver is consistent with the Board’s resolution with moving some of the career staff down to the Black Rock Station in Oaks.

If this issue sounds familiar to regular readers, that’s because it has come up before (see HERE).  In fact, it came up a just a month ago at the 5/21/18 Board of Supervisors meeting when apparently Barker was alerted to this development via a forwarded email immediately prior to stepping into the BOS meeting.  In that email, it was apparent that BRVFC was moving forward with work to accommodate Township employees at the BRVFC’s Oaks station.  Barker questioned why work to accomodate the Township’s agenda was moving forward when it had not been discussed by the Board and had not seen any plans for the improvements.

In the intervening four weeks, you’d think that someone could have informed Barker of the status of this project, or given him a drawing indicating the scope of this Township-dictated work, but once again, it appears that the decisions of this new five member board are being confined to just three members.

CaptureApparently, Barker is still not privy to any designs or drawings on the modifications to the Oaks Fire Station, as it is unclear what work is being performed down there.  When Barker remarks, “So, they are moving ahead with quarters?  I guess I just thought that we would get a report to tell us what’s going on down there.  So they’re just moving forward, is that it?”  Bortnichak states that the Board can be updated every two weeks when Tieperman communicates with the Board (so the question remains:  why hasn’t that happened yet?) but that staff is just moving ahead with the milestones as approved by the Board, the most urgent of which appears to be getting those career staff moved from their central location at the Township Building and re-quartered down there in the Oaks corner of the Township asap.

Other Board Business

  • Authorizing design proposal for the Aschenfelter Bridge and amendment to capital budget due to significant erosion down near that bridge.  It was identified as a deficient bridge in the 2016 budget. The cost is $119,000 and change just to do the design and the all in cost will be around $300,000 to $400,000.  Vagnozzi inquires about the traffic counts on this and wants to know if that can be two cul-de-sacs rather than a through road.  The Township’s traffic engineer states that the roads are too long for cul-de-sacs per the Township’s code. Pearson can’t get over the cost for this “little bridge” and actually suggests throwing steel plates over it, while Barker suggests that the Board should at least move forward with a design for budgetary reasons.  Unsurprisingly, Pearson opts to kick the can down the road and do nothing.
  • The demolition of structures at the Taylor Farm property needs to be discussed at a future meeting.
  • Linfield Trappe Road and Township Line intersection:  Township is partnering with Limerick Township and Rousch Chamberlain has asked that McMahon and Associates design the intersection, which creates a conflict because McMahaon would also review that plan for the Township.  The Board approves this because they will get more “bang for their buck” in having McMahon do the design and the review.  Tom Grasso approaches and asks whether the builder who built Providence Corner was supposed to be part of that intersection improvement.  Bortnichak confirms that they were, but they opted instead to escrow $352,000 with the bank towards that project.  Bortnichak also mentions that the Township is currently in negotiations with the Bank, who has apparently misplaced this money.  Later, Bresnan remarks that the litigation on this matter is proceeding and he is going to add the builder as a party to the lawsuit.
  • Black Rock trail has been approved by PennDOT and the Board approves authorization to advertising the bid package.

Final Thoughts

Several times during the meeting, Pearson complains about not being able to hear residents.  Not that it matters. He’s not listening to them anyway.  But the malfunctioning microphones were a needless distraction and my apologies if I have garbled any remarks here due to poor audio.

It’s interesting to watch Pearson’s interactions with residents when he’s not the one entreating them to grab their torches and pitchforks to storm the Board meeting.  He’s dismissive, hostile and defensive.  Additionally, I’m not sure I get the logic that allows him to draw a conclusion that a room full of people indicates that there is not much interest in an issue, something he did twice this year with the cell tower issue and now with the Rec Center.

It’s also interesting that now, after what has been a six months of irresponsible spending benefitting friends and pet projects, Pearson is trying to come across as some kind of fiscally responsible Supervisor by nickel and diming on things like the fitness center and the Aschenfelter Road bridge, but thinking nothing on blowing a quarter of a million dollars on a limited use Medic Responder or almost $90,000 on preserving a private farm.

CaptureFinally, I’d note that a pattern of non-communication has been firmly established in the inaugural six months of the five member board.  It is regularly observable that decisions have not only been made outside of the public eye, but acted upon, without the full knowledge of the entire Board of Supervisors (specifically, Barker and Vagnozzi), let alone their approval.  If the Township voted to expand the Board from three to five members under the premise that more points of view on the Board of Supervisors are better, why are two of those voices routinely being shut out of the decision making process by the very man who was a leader of this initiative?  Aren’t we just back to having a three member Board of Supervisors again?

Just a rhetorical question for contemplation.  I already know the answer.