UPT Board Meeting Notes 11/19/18  Episode 19:  The Great Pretension

Gentle Readers, I feel I’ve been quite consistent in my contempt for John Pearson’s opening free form remarks, and have never waivered in my assertion that this practice is nothing more than an ego indulgence. Rest assured, the November 19th meeting will not change that opinion at all; however, it does mark a new low for the custom. For the majority of the year, it was bad enough that Pearson presumed to waste our time and lecture the rest of the Township with his insipid little morality tales gleaned primarily from Chicken Soup for the Soul, but the last couple of meetings, he has gone off script, preferring instead to give us the results of his timely Google searches. This week, he gave us a list of Thanksgiving facts, inclusive of this tone-setting tidbit:

“Black Friday is the busiest day for Roto-Rooter. A major plumbing service, they are called in to clean up overwhelmed sewer systems.”

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Isn’t that great? Don’t these folksy, bi-weekly, dive-bar philosopher moments enhance your life in such a meaningful way? Doesn’t it make you just want to sit down and have a beer with your oh-so-relatable Township Supervisor?

This meeting clocks in at a very reasonable 1:06, so if nothing else, we can be thankful for that. It’s a pretty routine meeting, complete with the requisite paper shuffling and confusion from the Chairman, but there are still a couple of points worth highlighting, so let’s dig in.

Squad 51 Response Checked

After a perusal of the 2019 budget, I was unable to locate the cost expenditure for the new Medic Responder vehicle, which, you may recall, was the preferred EMS alternative of Pearson, Higgins and Calci over a centrally located ambulance service. Your Humble Blogress makes a cameo appearance at this week’s Public Comment portion of the meeting, with a question on the missing medic responder unit.

Mr. Tieperman’s response to me, that it was “probably” budgeted in last years’ capital budget and the Township did not program any new expenditures for 2019, does not hold water.

The medic responder unit, which represented a higher operating cost, but a lower initial capital outlay, was budgeted for $50,000 plus a $30,000 heart monitor vs. $190,000 plus the heart monitor for the Ambulance at the April 4 Special Fire and Emergency Services Meeting. Metrics on the EMS options presented at the April 4 meeting are included below:

8i AltBudget

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No brainer

After making such a business of choosing the Medic Responder over the Ambulance last spring, after promising the residents that they were going to do something to fill the identified and acknowledged gaps in the Township’s EMS coverage, the purchase of the Medic Responder unit was put out to bid in late spring. Presumably, the bids came back sometime in July, as the minutes of the July 16 meeting reflect:

Medic Responder Minutes 071618

Gentle Readers: the Medic Responder unit has not even been mentioned at a public Board meeting since then. As has been noted numerous times on this blog, the Medic Responder was, shall we say, a unique solution to a problem that was first proposed by this Board of Supervisors and had never before been contemplated by Upper Providence. The very “uniqueness” of this solution was cause for some rather wanton speculation by your humble Blogress regarding the current Board’s members’ lack of curiosity about this solution prior to voting in favor of it.

Budget
It’s not in here. We looked.

It should further be noted that if the Medic Responder had, in fact, been budgeted in 2018, it would have had to have been done via a budget amendment, which never happened. And it was certainly not a part of the 2018 budget passed last year.

As was implied by Mr. Tieperman’s response to me during public comment, the Medic Responder unit is not included in the 2019 budget, either.

So where is it?

And if the Medic Responder unit is not included in the 2018 or 2019 budget, what does the Board plan to do in order to fill the existing EMS coverage gap, illustrated below:

Closest EMS
Red and orange areas show “gaps” in coverage.

I submitted a follow-up email to Mr. Tieperman on 11/20 asking these questions, but received an out of office reply. I will keep you updated on any response on this important Township safety issue.

In Which a Major Policy Initiative is Shoehorned into the Code at the 11th Hour

We’re going to skip ahead to the 53:00 minute mark in the meeting to revisit the continuing saga of the Administrative Code.

The advertisement of the Administrative Code seems to have been on every agenda since July and tonight was no exception. The problem with advertising the ordinance seems to be the very fluid nature of it—between Board comments and corrections, it’s been a difficulty determining when the document is mostly complete and can therefore be advertised to be approved and then implemented. The Board can always amend the ordinance at their pleasure after passage.

Today’s fluidity is thanks to Calci, who, via an email to Tieperman earlier that same day, proposed additional language preventing “Pay to play.” Bresnan explains:

“It’s an ethics provision regarding any contract that you would let that is not covered by the bidding law. In other words, if it’s something that doesn’t have to go to bid, a person could not bid to be your consultant or vendor if they had given a contribution to a candidate for Supervisor in that year or the prior year in excess of $300. That was taken largely from something that Helene had located in New Jersey, an ordinance in New Jersey. I’m familiar with those provisions in some Pennsylvania municipalities, too, with roughly similar provisions. I wrote that this afternoon, and I don’t know if it was distributed to everyone.”

Can I interject here for a second and just convey to you, Gentle Reader, how very pleased I am to learn that we are using New Jersey, the absolute epicenter of good government, as the source of the template for an ethics ordinance?

Bresnan tells the Board that this language, which they are all seeing for the first time at this meeting, is on the last page of the hard copies of the 211 page Administrative Code that they have at their places. Bresnan continues:

“The only thing that’s not in the draft is what the penalty is. I was under a time constraint when I got the request, but that’s the only thing that would require some discussion. It would be hard to penalize the candidate at the time of contribution; at the time of contribution to a candidate, there is nothing wrong about it yet. It only becomes wrong when that same person puts in to become your vendor or consultant. So you’d have to think about the best way to state what is a violation. You’re talking about an ordinance violation, so there’s a state law that limits the penalties on local ordinances. But you could also disqualify the contract and seek to charge back anyone who took a contribution in violation of the provision.

Probably the thing that ties it all together really would be the affidavit. Now you don’t have that there; the affidavit would include the same language that we use in legal pleadings, so that when the person signs an affidavit to say that they didn’t make any contributions to candidates in the last two years when they are making an application to be your vendor. If they make a false statement in that application, then they are subject to prosecution under the crimes code. That really would be the strongest part of it from a penalty standpoint. What I did was I took the essence of the New Jersey ordinance and condensed it down into what you saw, because the New Jersey ordinance was like nine pages. If I put all that in there, you’d all be jumping up and down hitting me over the head with notebooks for putting all that in there at the last minute. I don’t object to it in concept, I can tweak the language, but I wanted to have something in there so you have something to look at. I can tweak that language further if you’re interested in pursuing it.”

Vagnozzi remarks that the Board has been contemplating the Administrative code for months and, while he agrees that this is a very good addition to the code, he suggests that they advertise the document that they are all familiar with and amend the code at a later time with this new, proposed language. Bresnan concurs, and says there is some additional by-laws language they can then include and contemplate as a supplement package to the Administrative code. Pearson quickly agrees with Vagnozzi.

Calci2
Wait, I write the ordinances? Whenever I want?

Calci, apparently still unclear as to her actual role as a Township Supervisor, asks what the process is, if the code would be updated quarterly or annually or what? Bresnan tells her they can amend the code whenever they want, every month if they desire. It’s just an ordinance.

Pearson says he will entertain a motion to advertise the ordinance “as it is now,” meaning without the pay-to-play language, and Barker says, “Wait a minute. I’m not in a position where I’m ready to approve it as it is now. If you want to wait one more meeting, I’ll send you all my notes on it.”

Pearson responds that Barker can add his notes at any time and Barker asks, “Why do you want to adopt something that’s not exactly what you want to start with?”

It is unclear at this point whether Barker is aware that Pearson doesn’t have any idea what’s in the document he’s getting ready to advertise. I think the only thing about this ordinance that Pearson is sure of at this point is that if they vote to advertise “as is,” it won’t include this new pay-to-play language.

211 pages is a lot to ask someone to read, you know. That’s like an entire book and there are kitschy Google searches to do in the meantime. Pearson says, “We’re not going to adopt it, we’re going to advertise it.” The subtleties of this are completely lost on Pearson, who also wanted to make changes to the advertised budget after it had been advertised. Every document is a living, breathing document for Pearson.

Bresnan says that the advertisement would be the preamble of the ordinance and as long as the changes Barker had were not too substantial, they would not have to re-advertise.

Barker says there have been changes made to the document that he doesn’t agree with, specifically the amount of money the Township Manager can spend. Bresnan says that amount was reduced from $50,000 to $25,000 and Barker says he still doesn’t agree with $25,000. At this, Pearson calls to table the item for one more meeting and tells Barker to bring in all his “changes, alterations, whatever you want to do with it,” at the next meeting.

Calci asks that if Bresnan takes the time to work on Barker’s corrections, that he also take the time to work on her pay to play language as well.

The item is tabled.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Can I have Your Pretension, Please?

This is rich.

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to suggest monitoring campaign finance reports for pay-to-play activity when one’s own campaign finance reports are, shall we say, somewhat less than transparent.

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Pearson’s reaction to this late addition to the code which actually governs the Board was not exactly enthusiastic. In fact, in his exchange with Barker, Pearson seemed more concerned with advertising the ordinance as is, sans pay-to-play language, than he was in actually getting the ordinance right. This reaction from Pearson would be wholly understandable.

As was documented extensively back in April in THIS POST, the 2017 Higgins Calci and Pearson Fresh Perspective campaign for Upper Providence Township Supervisor conveniently left several contributions off of their campaign finance reports, such as in-kind donations for all three of the fundraisers that they held. Additionally, the campaign itself filed their final report late and paid the late fine with campaign funds, which is expressly forbidden.

Calci’s husband, Joe Haney, was the treasurer for the HCP campaign and responsible for filing their reports.

Pearson himself was under investigation for not filing ANY campaign finance reports AT ALL during his run for re-election in 2015, this, in spite of obvious expenditures and donations. He eventually documented at least the expenditures for which I had submitted photographic evidence to the County and he filed those 2015 campaign finance reports in the Spring of 2018, along with his $500 fine, at the conclusion of the investigation initiated by Montgomery County Voter Services.

And in 2016, Pearson’s five-member board PAC, Upper Providence First, omitted expenses and contributions from their year-end filing and had to file an amended report in May of 2017. Even the final amended report did not reconcile and showed outstanding bills unpaid.

Classic Transference
Ahh, yes. A classic case of transference.

And isn’t it Pearson who pals around with a notable member of the paparazzi and Upper Providence First “Republican” who was appointed to a payback Township position by the Democrat majority? A guy who no one can really tolerate but for the fact that he’s the perfect political tool:  wealthy, angry, ambitious, and not too bright, which makes him malleable and easily manipulatable. For the last four-plus years, he’s literally been throwing tens of thousands of dollars wherever he’s been directed around Mongomery County, in a thus-far unsuccessful effort to buy his way into political power.

And isn’t Pearson also good buddies with the guy who famously defrauded PennDOT out of almost a million dollars then got zero jail time due to his conveniently-timed plea bargain the day after our current crusading Attorney General got elected?

Are we to take seriously this 11th hour, high-handed moralizing about pay-to-play from folks who consistently don’t even report all of their contributions and expenses on their campaign finance reports? From folks whose campaign benefitted from programs funded by dark money contributed through county and area committees? From folks whose understanding of money in politics is nuanced, at best?

Are these the folks who are to be trusted to take up the reigns of policing money in politics?

Yes, by all means, let’s pass this heroic ordinance. After all, it won’t affect the Democrats or Pearson’s buddies, who consistently game the campaign finance system by either omitting those items that may be somewhat “questionable” from their campaign finance reports, or simply don’t bother to file the reports at all.

If you have not already done so, I stongly encourage you to read this detailed post on the subject of campaign finances in Upper Providence: ‘Stormy’ Conditions; Limited Visibility

Go ahead.  Click on through and read it now.  I’ll wait.

PTC 106 Residences at Providence Town Center

The Board voted unanimously to approve the Conditional Use application to PTC 106 aka The Residences at Providence Town Center, aka The Apartments Behind Wegman’s. The Board included a condition of contributions in their approval. The Township will receive a total amount of $585,000 in consideration of the impact on police and other Township services with a portion to be paid upon delivery of each building of the project.

The Board also approved the Tentative Land Development, and additional fees from this project will be collected by the Township upon approval of the Preliminary Land Development plan. Those fees are estimated at $288,000 for traffic impacts and $2.34 million in recreation fees.

Report from the Schuylkill Canal Association

The Schuylkill Canal and Lock 60 were taken over by Montgomery County several years ago. The Schuylkill Canal Association (“SCA”) is a 100% volunteer organization and derives the bulk of their funding from Upper Providence Township, with donations coming from membership and sometimes events (though most events admittedly lose money for the organization).

At the end of the presentation, as usual, Calci turns to Barker and asks him if he has any questions. It’s interesting, this reliance on Barker for doing the homework for the Board, especially on land-use issues. One wonders if the Democrats plan on actually learning about this subject anytime soon.

Barker notes that the Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), which transferred the ownership of this property from the Township to the County, outlined County financial support for the organization; however, the Association reported that they have been paying for heat and electricity of the lock tender’s house, (which is County property) and the County has not provided any financial support for many years. The Association is currently negotiating a new lease with the County, which they hope will include basic upkeep (power and heat) for the lock tender’s house.

Barker says the original MOU was a three part agreement, including the SCA, the Township and the County and Barker was under the impression that we were still operating under that same agreement. If that agreement is no longer in place, when was the Township excluded from being a party to the agreement?

Betsey Daley explains that a fourth party, the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, was also a party to that agreement. She states that “a lot has changed” in the ten years since the County has taken over the area, including that there is no longer a paid, executive director for the SCA (which was formerly Daley herself).

Barker says, “I just find it disappointing on the County’s part that we entered into that agreement, and negotiated to give all of that Township property, all of those Township properties, because they wanted to improve the area, but they are not willing to support the ongoing efforts of you and Dan? I just find it disappointing on the County’s part.”

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Daley responds that the SCA is trying to negotiate with the County to make it more of an equal responsibility. So far they have not heard back from them.

Vagnozzi asks Tieperman to set up a meeting with the County to discuss this issue.

Oh, and by the way, color me shocked—SHOCKED, I tell you!—that Montgomery County not only cut Upper Providence Township out of the current MOU without telling the Township, but has not been financially supporting the property under the purview of the SCA that the Township transferred to them 10 years ago.

I just. Cannot. Believe. It.

Nudging the Budget

Agenda Item: “Consider any Board related Budget modifications that are not related to sewer.”

Huh?

Hasn’t the budget been advertised already? Why would anyone need to consider “modifications” to a budget that has already been advertised?

Unless, of course, someone missed one of the two scheduled budget workshops. And the someone who missed it just so happened to be the Chairman of the Board.

Why must the entire Township suffer for one man’s lack of engagement in his job?

Say it with me, people: “Budget IS Policy.”

The most important job a Township Supervisor has is the budget. The budget dictates what projects and items will be funded and which will be curtailed, and which will be expanded. And while I am fully aware that Quizzo night falls on Mondays, I was under the impression that, even on the off chance that this particular Fitz activity has recently declined in popularity, there was still an active and vested interest in the budget from the Quizzo regulars.

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Naturally when the Budget Modification item came up, Pearson punts it directly to Tieperman to handle, as if he, Pearson, had nothing whatsoever to do with it appearing on the agenda. Tieperman reports that the issue of “extra public works staffing” was handled in the Secret Monday Morning Meeting (which Vagnozzi attended). Interestingly, there are no modifications to the operating budget to consider.

Tieperman goes on to say that there was an oversight in budgeting programming for the Taylor Farm Park, but that funding for that will be coming from the approximate $1.0 million plus in Park and Rec Open Space capital funds and have no impact on operating.

That all being said, the Board is still considering a raise in sewer rates, which will impact the sewer budget. Upper Providence currently pays the lowest sewer rates in Western Montgomery County.

Sewer Rates
Note: The following municipalities are members of the Lower Perkiomen Valley Sewer Authority (“LPVRSA”): Collegeville, Trappe, Royersford, Skippack, Lower Providence, Perkiomen, and Upper Providence.

Due to advertising requirements, the budget will not be voted for approval until the December 17 meeting. Additionally, staff is recommending that the Board take a hard pause to consider sewer policy prior to committing to the sewer expansion project at Fruit Farm Road and Old State.

Vagnozzi summarizes that the Township has had a policy of not onlyproviding a 75% subsidy towards the installation of sewer hookup for it’s residents, but the Township has also made it a practice to not require residents to hook up once sewer lines are installed. Recall that this discussion came up at a recent meeting as well (see HERE for more information).

Barker asks about wage increases and notes that there was to be a discussion on this (a later exchange reveals that the wrong document was included in the Supervisors’ dropbox). Tieperman responds that the budget is calling for an across the Board Cost of Living increase (“COLA”) of 2.8% to mirror what the police are getting.

Prior to my tenure, it was standard operating procedure for the Township to give the non-union employees the same raise and benefits that the union employees had negotiated for themselves. When I came on Board, I asked, what was the point of even having non-union employees since they were benefitting by getting the same employment terms that the union had negotiated? I understand the thought process that says to keep the non-union employees happy so that they don’t unionize, but if they are getting the same pay raises and benefits, aren’t all Township employees effectively union? As equalizing these benefits to whatever the union had negotiated was a favorite hobby horse of Pearson’s to keep his insiders at the Township happy, especially where health benefits were concerned, I’m not surprised to see that the Township is right back to handing out the same benefits and compensation packages to union and non-union alike.

End Zone

The Board considered two zoning appeals in which to decide whether or not to send the Solicitor to oppose: DeVinny Equities at 1425, 1431 and 1441 Collegeville Road and David James real Estate at 98 Caroline Drive. The Board voted to let the Zoning Hearing Board “do their thing” on both items.

I only mention it here as noteworthy that after three six-year terms and a year into his fourth term, John Pearson has finally figured out what this action is all about and now feels confident in explaining it to the Board, even adding some authority in his delivery, and using minimal guidance from the Solicitor.

It’s almost time to take the training wheels off! Progress!

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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.

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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.

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.