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.

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.