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:

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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.

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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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