UPT Board Meeting Notes 11/5/18 Episode 18: Chickens Return Home; Find Place to Roost

Gentle Readers, the November 5 Board of Supervisors Meeting clocks in at a brutal 2 hours and 37 minutes.

In fairness to the Board, it was a heavy agenda.

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When it only seems like time is folding in on itself.

In fairness to the rest of us, however, my conservative estimate of how much time John Pearson wastes with general incompetence in his capacity as Chairman of the Board, during this meeting alone, clocks in at around 45 minutes. I’m not sure how he can be prepared to read his insipid little story every week (another 3 minutes of your life you will never get back), but when it comes to actual Board business, somehow his computer doesn’t work, he can’t find his notes, he doesn’t know how much things cost, or he simply needs the procedure explained to him for the umpteenth time.

This level of unpreparedness is, quite frankly, not only irresponsible and embarassing, but it’s downright inconsiderate of everyone’s time. At almost one year into his fourth term into office, there really is no excuse for this.

There is probably another 45 minutes that are devoted to the ramifications of just two of Pearson’s bad decisions of the past eleven months. Karma never loses an address.

Take out all of this Pearson-related time wasting, and you are left with a wholly reasonable hour and four minute meeting.

Before we get to public comment, we have to get through what is now becoming traditional confusion over the previous meeting minutes. This finally ends when Calci seconds the motion to approve minutes for a meeting for which she was not even present.

The Once-ler of Oaks

Resident Chuck Stoll approaches to let the Board know that SEI has cleared a section of woods that they were supposed to leave up to screen the neighborhood from their parking garage. They also altered the path of a stream, and removed several large trees. Pearson says that he took a ride to the site “the other day,” after he received Stoll’s email and verified that Stoll is correct. He tells him he doesn’t know what they are going to do, but it’s definitely on the Board’s “radar.” What a comfort.

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Ooops. Sorry.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything the Board does about this. SEI is one of the largest employers in the Township; however, their consideration of the neighbors, particularly those in Indian Head, has historically left quite a bit to be desired. If large trees have already been removed, this is irreparable damage to the screening that SEI promised the neighborhood. I’m not sure how the neighborhood can be made whole in the loss of mature trees.

Pearson says he went down there a “a few days ago,” meaning he had plenty of time to determine a course of action–for starters, calling SEI, perhaps? But Pearson has far more pressing matters to worry about this week because a couple of chickens are coming home to roost right on his shoulders.

RECkoning

Resident Jerry Prescuitti (with apologies for probably hacking the spelling of his name) approaches and tells the Board, “I want to raise the issue of the Rec Center, again, the continuing fiasco from the summer which should never have come up to begin with.”

Mr. Prescuitti states that the original hours were 6 am to 10 pm, Monday through Thursday with the Rec Center closing early on Fridays. The new hours, since the Board’s ham-handed announcement in June to close the Fitness Center with no plan to repurpose the space, are 8 am to 10 pm Monday through Thursday with an early close on Friday. Prescuitti tells the Board something he should not need to tell them: that most people’s workdays start at 8 am and end around 6 pm, so anyone who wants to work out before they go to work is out of luck under the current operating hours. Prescuitti says this is unfair to folks who want to work out in the morning and proposes that the Board open the Rec Center an hour earlier and either closes an hour earlier or just extend the Rec Center hours by one hour.

“Well Jerry, w-w-w-I’m well, you know, I got your email, okay? Uhhhm, it was sent to Tim and I, I got copied on your email, ummm, we discussed it earlier today. Ummmm… I found out that in order to change just those two hours, just to accommodate, w-w-we, they have a-a-a uh a swipe up there that every time someone comes in, we know who’s coming in and what time, okay? A-a-a-and they went back over the last year or so, and it indicated that there were two people, maximum, most of the time, on occasion there were maybe four people. The expense involved in, in, in, in turning, opening that thing up two hours early every day turns out to be roughly $10,000 a year. And we’re not, we’re not, I personally, am not going to approve something like that. I don’t know about the rest of the Board, you can ask them their opinion.”

Prescuitti counter with the following points:

First, he’s not asking for two hours, he’s asking for one hour.

He’s asking for a shift in hours, not an additional hour, and there should be no incremental cost if you shift the hours.

He would also like to request the swipe data for two years to verify the usage Pearson is saying.

(Note to Mr. Prescuitti: File an RTK with the Township. I’d be more than happy to help you with that. The link is here.)

Prescuitti then says he’d like Pearson to explain why they are cutting off access for one group of people while another group has access for four hours in the evening.

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Let’s be frank: 8 am is a ridiculous time to open a gym in the morning, since most working folks have to be at work by 9 am at the latest. As a person who goes to the gym before I leave for work in the morning, even a fitness center that opened at 6 am would be useless to me, as I must leave my house at 6:30 to begin my hellish commute to Center City, only to arrive at work just as our Rec Center is opening. My gym opens at 5 am and on the all-too-often occasions when they open even five minutes late, it messes up my day.

Barker:

“The change in hours was not determined by this entire Board, I want to make that clear from the beginning. Up until about a year and a half ago, I was a paying member of the Recreation Center, and I worked out between 6 and 8 in the morning. I am not able to do that now because of my change in employment. I would agree with you, that it should be changed, and I don’t know whether the hours are part of the ordinance that was adopted, the fee schedule, we have a fee schedule for the Recreation Center that I don’t believe is being followed now, it’s being changed. But we have an adopted fee schedule which includes sewer, permits and everything else. But I, for one, would agree with you that is should be opened earlier. And my card does not swipe anymore, but it did swipe, and I don’t know how it’s determined what’s a valid swipe and what is not a valid swipe.”

Prescuitti also wants to get the financials for the last two years and for the next year. This will be a neat trick. Good luck, Mr. Prescuitti. If they even exist, I’m not sure I’d trust the numbers. But more on that a bit later. Prescuitti continues:

“I’m pretty sure that the incompetent decision to announce the closure of that facility without any viable plan except bird identification classes, or whatever your lead candidate was, already cost the Rec Center, probably at least $10,000. I’m pretty good with data, so I’m going to go through that data, in detail, and I’m going to come back to this meeting with that assessment of how much we’ve already lost, and I guaranty you it’s already more than $10,000, because of that initial decision.”

Vagnozzi tells him he can file an RTK request or just ask the Township Manager, who would be happy to get the data for him. Prescuitti is not done, yet, however:

“When that original case was made to shut down the Rec Center because of not enough utilization of the facility by the entire community, ironically, I come home today for dinner, and I get our nice monthly flier from the Township. (Note: the Township newsletter is only published 2x per year) I see in here on page two, ‘Skate Park Project is Underway.’ Can you tell us what the costs for the Skate Park enhancements are, and what your utilization assumptions are for that usage?”

Prescuitti then asks the audience, by show of hands, if anyone present will use the skate park.

Higgins states that the people who are in the market for the skate park are not present in the room. Barker says that the skate park is the most utilized park in the Township, and that he would support it even though he doesn’t skate. Prescuitti then asks how much it costs, and Barker tells him $385,000 plus concrete. Prescuitti responds:

“So $385,000 for the skate park and it’s $10,000 to adjust the hours of the Rec Center to make it more usable for a more broader amount of people, because you are pretty much shutting out anyone who wants to work out in the morning?”

At this point, once again, Bresnan steps in to do the job Pearson is supposed to be doing in his capacity as Chairman. Bresnan says that the public comment has gone beyond the usual allotted time and it’s become more argument and demanding answers than public comment.

And as we all know by now, it’s a waste of time asking questions because Pearson has no answers for this boneheaded decision.

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Lookout! Oncoming unplanned motion!

Always quick to grasp the lifeline once it’s thrown to him, Pearson is noticably relieved and quick to get Prescuitti to sit down: “Eh-eh-th-thank you for stepping in and we’ll get you the information that you need.”

Oh no. Here it comes. Another Unplanned Motion!

Vagnozzi, talking over Pearson and Prescuitti:

“If I could? We either have a Rec Center, or we don’t. I read Mr. Prescuitti’s email, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request. So I make a motion that we direct the Township Manager to open the Rec Center one hour earlier, at 7 am and going forward within 30 days. Only during the week. I’ll make that motion.”

Barker immediately seconds.

After a stunned beat or two, Pearson recognized the motion on the floor and calls for a vote. Calci asks for clarification on whether the Board is voting to shift the hours or add an hour. Barker says, “Al’s motion was to open the Rec Center one hour earlier. And it’s not just the fitness center; you can’t open the fitness center without the Rec Center.” Vagnozzi confirms and Barker reconfirms his second.

The vote goes down 3 to 2 in favor of opening the Rec Center an hour earlier, with Vagnozzi, Barker and Calci voting Aye and Pearson and Higgins opposed.

Call him Ishmael

If you have not figured it out yet, this issue, which was wholly maufactured by Pearson back in June, is part and parcel of the petty score settling portion of Pearson’s Failed Agenda of Petty Score Settling and Crony Favor Granting.

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Very simply, I believe John Pearson is trying to kill the Rec Center. Parks and Recreation has been Pearson’s White Whale since long before the Rec Center opened in 2011, and he is determined to strangle the life out of it.

First a bit of history: As mentioned above, the Rec Center opened in the summer of 2011. When I was first elected to Board and took office in 2012, one of the first things John Pearson wanted me to look at was the Rec Center because he said he “knew” it was losing money. (Note well, Gentle Readers: At that time, Pearson and I were friendly; indeed it was not until 2015, a year he ran for, and lost, re-election, and fell in with the Upper Providence First Worst crowd, that Pearson turned on me.)

It was not until about 9 months into my first year in office that I realized that the origin of this gambit was Pearson’s personal vendetta against then-Rec Center Director, Sue Barker.

I asked Pearson to provide me with financials demonstrating what he was telling me: that the Rec Center was losing money and, further, that it was Sue Barker who was running it into the ground, and all this within it’s first year of operations. For several months, Pearson badgered me to act on this, while I kept responding by asking for the numbers. Because the first question I had was, if there were no existing financials on which to monitor the performance of the Rec Center, how did Pearson “know” it was losing money?

Finally, he had the Finance Director put some spreadsheets together for me. Upon reviewing the information I was provided, I noted that, among other things, the Rec Center was being charged for all manner of operating costs, i.e. electric, heat, air, internet, etc., that the Township Administration Building, the Public Works Building and the Meeting Hall simply charged off to some magical “Building Fund” in order to make the Rec Center look like it was doing worse than it was.

Please note, Gentle Reader: there is literally no service that your Government provides that makes money. Running government “like a business” is a myth and rarely achievable. Township-provided services, i.e. police, fire, road maintenance, sewer, etc: it all costs money with nothing but your tax dollars to pay for it. Ironically, the Fitness Center at the Rec Center is the one Township service where membership fees were actually offsetting some of the costs of provision. This is the service Pearson and his Girls® decided to cut. None of the replacement programming they suggested would generate significant ongoing offsetting revenue streams like the fitness center membership; in fact, almost all of the alternative programming that was suggested in June would only cost the Township money.

Needless to say, I had Pearson’s financials normalized back in 2012 and insisted on receiving them and monitoring them for two years. What I observed was not concerning, especially for a startup venture; indeed, memberships and swipes generally increased steadily during the whole first year and a half of operations before leveling off. This was accomplished, by the way, without any formal marketing plan, which, you may recall, was a major gripe of the disgruntled membership when Pearson decided to close it this past June (for a refresher on that memorable meeting, see HERE). In fact, when the electronic sign for the Rec Center was budgeted for 2016, Pearson wanted to cut it; he insisted the Rec Center was under performing (despite fiscal evidence to the contrary that he was incapable of interpreting) and did his best to hamstring the operation every chance he got.

The change in hours at the Rec Center is just a tactic to create a self-fulfilling prophesy: make it so inconvenient to work out there that members begin resigning. Without membership, the Rec Center loses more money, and viola! Justification to close it. This is an old strategy of Pearson’s, simply executed in a different way.

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From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee

Pearson made no secret during his numerous runs for office that one of the reasons he was running was to “get rid of” Sue Barker. Unfortunately for Pearson, Sue Barker denied him his pound of flesh when she separated from the Township’s employ last November, prior to Pearson’s taking office. The only recourse left to Pearson to satisfy his lust for revenge is to strangle the Rec Center into oblivion, destroying whatever is left of the good work she’s done there, then somehow try to pin it on her post-humously.

It’s worth noting that the word on the street is that the Township’s Rec Director, Jen Steffenauer, who was hired by this Board less than a year ago, has also tendered her resignation within the last two weeks. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s two director level employees lost this year: Josh Overholt, Upper Providence Fire Chief, who submitted his resignation in July, and now Steffenauer this month. It’s not conicidence that FEMS and Recreation were Pearson’s two areas of focus this year. It would seem that his brand of political chaos doesn’t provide for a very stable work environment.

And can we talk about that penny pinching reluctance to open the Rec Center so people can use it in the morning? The excuse that the extra hour is going to cost the Township an extra $10,000 a year is lame beyond belief for two reasons: first of all, that money was already budgeted for 2018. Second, and even more ridiculous: because of Pearson ‘s ham-handed and short sighted approach to the closing of the fitness center, it is costing the residents up to $57,690 to conduct a township wide survey so that the residents can actually tell Pearson what he should do with the building.

Because he has no idea what to do with that building and he never did; he has no vision for this Township whatsoever. His thinking is small, compartmentalized and short-term. His style of governance, if it can even be called that, basically consists of tamping down one self-ignited dumpster fire after starting another. His short attention span precludes any consistent, long range, big picture or analytical thinking about what’s best for the Township. It’s only about what’s best, politically and personally, for John Pearson.

That’s why for want of saving $10,000, he’ll spend almost $60,000 on a survey to justify it.

No Relief in Slight

We’ll now move on to the crony favor granting portion of Pearson’s Failed Agenda of Petty Score Settling and Crony Favor Granting. At about 1:33:00, another bad Pearson decision chicken comes home to roost in the form of the vote on the distribution of the Fire Relief Association money.

First, a word about this funding: Relief Association money comes from the State to the Township for them to pass along to the various first due volunteer fire companies that serve the Township, and it must be distributed within 60 days of receipt of that money. As has been mentioned ad nauseum in this blog this year, the Township is served by four, first due volunteer fire companies (coverage areas illustrated in the map below). In addition to passing along Relief monies from the State, the Township also provides annual funding from the Township’s general fund. A significant portion of the local Volunteer Fire Companies’ annual funding comes from taxpayer dollars.

Screenshot_2017-05-02-10-06-58-1 (1)

At this meeting, the Board is determining the distribution of the State Relief monies only.

Gentle Readers, you can always tell when Pearson wants to avoid discussion of an uncomfortable topic, because he will announce the agenda item and immediately say, “I think we all know what this one is about. I’ll entertain a motion,” in an effort to curtail comments.

And that is exactly what happens here.

Unfortunately for him, Assistant Manager Bortnichak has a presentation to accompany this agenda item:

“Staff’s recommendation is that the formula that’s been applied to the general funding allocation to the fire companies most recently be applied to the relief funding distribution for 2018. The amount we received this year was $186,000 and change, unfortunately it’s down over $41,000 over the past two years.”

“The formula is worked out by district size, by population within that district and the call volume within that district: 30% for district size, 30% for population and 40% for call volume. So it is weighted slightly in favor of the calls that the fire companies run.”

Bortnichak then goes on to explain the allocations this year. The graphic below shows the calculation and the final award numbers:

Relief allocation

Note well, Gentle Reader: when Bortnichak says that staff recommends “the most recent formula that’s been applied to the general funding allocation,” he’s talking about the very same formula that the Democrats campaigned against last year as a “cut” to Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company’s funding. (See HERE for a detailed post about that funding).

In fact, Frequent Flyers may recall that despite numerous occasions to do so, the newly elected Board never exercised their right to reopen the 2018 budget and correct what they portrayed as a grievous slight to the Black Rock Fire Company all during the campaign of 2017, as demonstrated by the following campaign mailers they sent out last year:

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1MailersideA

What they are about to approve is a distribution of Relief monies calculated by the very same formula they told voters was a “cut” to BRVFC’s funding.

Pearson blathers:

“I know you guys are all tired of hearing me beat this dead horse to death, but I’m not uhhh, real happy with theeeee, the uhhhh, way that this money is being distributed, but so be it. I’ll entertain a motion.”

And that’s it. Vagnozzi makes the motion and Barker seconds. Pearson calls for the vote and it passes unanimously.

Let me say that again:

It. Passes.

UNANIMOUSLY.

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Pearson was anxious to put this agenda item behind him, but, unfortunately for him, when he’s just inches from a clean getaway, Barker brings the issue back up at the end of the meeting during Supervisor comments.

We’ll pick up the meeting at 2:30:00 just after Pearson promises Barker that members of the Schuylkill Canal Association will be attending the next meeting to tell the Township how they are using the money the Township has been giving them every year. Barker to Pearson:

“You raised a question about the firehouse funding and was it a fair distribution of funds? And when I look at it, the number of fire calls, we don’t determine that; that’s predetermined as far as what they report as fire calls. The second one is square miles, the other one was population within the district. So the only thing that we could change, is if we change the response district, which would increase their square mileage and the population; that’s based on the box there, the first due district. So it’s not something…it’s not something we could arbitrarily change unless we change the box.”

Pearson responds,

“I get it and, and pretty much everyone in here has seen me beating this horse, and I get it, the vote was taken, it’s fine, but, for the, and I made this comment earlier, and ma, and Al kinda corrected me, for the last coupla years, it was uhhh, it’s been a different…it’s been a different, uhmmmm…pardon me? [At this point, Calci says, “Formula?” and Pearson says “Thank you. Thank you for completing my sentence.”] It’s been a different formula. What I wanna do is, okay, don’t change the formula any more, stick with what it is, leave it the way that it is, so that, so that, so that it doesn’t get skewed any further that what it is, where it’s at. I’m not happy with the distribution either, but you know, that’s neither here nor there, I don’t wanna get, I don’t wanna get into it. I-I’ve been beating every, I’ve been beating everybody up, except for you [Barker] about it. You’re lucky because your ears would still be going agh, I wish he would shut up.”

Barker, clearly not getting or not caring about Pearson’s telegraphed message that he doesn’t want to talk about this subject any more, says,

“I just kept looking at it to see where we could change it and the only thing we could change was the box. We could change the first due box locations and maybe give them a bigger area which would then give them a bigger population. But that’s based on the distance from the firehouse and the response areas.”

Pearson:

“Well what I was hoping, what I was hoping for was that, cuz, cuz, I have no experience at this whatsoever, what I was hoping for was to take on John Muir, and I called him this morning, but he was not available, um and I was gonna ask him his opinion how other municipalities handle it, or how he would handle it, or what, or what other companies have done, and I was gonna go with something like that. I…I just, you know, I just have a problem with it, you know. It’s just, and it’s my problem, not the Board’s, so I’ve let it go.”

Calci then jumps in to ask Barker if he feels like it’s a fair formula. Barker responds that it is fair because the Assistant Manager can’t change it, the Manager can’t change it, the Board can’t change it, and Calci says, “It’s not arbitrary.”

Barker nods agreement, then says it could only be changed if the fire service decides that another fire company should service the area, which would possibly give them more calls, more square miles and more population, “But it’s not something that anyone of us could….”

“Arbitrarily change.” Calci concludes.

Bortnichak states that the formula is not subjective and Barker agrees, saying, that the formula is “not some arbitrary formula that Josh [Overholt] came up with to favor one fire company over another.”

Pearson chokes down a few more stutters in response then repeats how he doesn’t want to get in to it.

“It’s been done, it’s been voted on, ah, all I can say is that I’m not happy with it and I’m not in favor of it, you know, I voted for it because I wanted everybody to get their share, and then it’s like whatever, and move on from it, so…um um I’m ok with it, you know.”

Calci says she feels like it’s fair enough, but, as usual, defers to the experts and suggests they still check with John Muir. Pearson promises it will be one of his first questions when he sits down with Mr. Muir.

Barker then reiterates that this formula is not something that anyone of them can alter so that one fire company gets any more than another. The meeting adjourns shortly thereafter.

I didn’t see a beating. Did you?

Phew! I’m actually sweating FOR Pearson after that exchange! Could he be any more uncomfortable?

So let’s start with the obvious: when you are an elected Supervisor, and you are one of five members on a Board, what is it that you can do it you are “not happy” with a issue?

How would you express disagreement with a policy decision?

Hmmm….what is it? What could it be? What possible action could an elected Supervisor take on an issue that he was “not in favor of?”

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Gentle Readers, far be it for your Humble Blogress to propose, but if I was “not happy” with a vote I was about to take, do you know what I could do?

I could vote against it.

Yet Pearson clearly voted in favor of this funding formula. Just like he did on every single vote he took when he sat on the Board with Barker and me. Oh, he was “not happy” with plenty of those votes, but the public only found out about that alleged “unhappiness” after he got voted out of office and whined to whoever would listen about how he had been shut out. Recognize this for what it is: Nobody forced Pearson’s votes during any of his numerous terms in office; indeed, he could have thrown a “no” vote at any time on any given issue, but instead of doing that, what he did was try to take credit for the great policies that were put into place “during his tenure” when he ran for, and lost, re-election in 2015. It wasn’t until the next year, when he was trying to expand the Board with Upper Providence First Worst, that he was suddenly claiming that he was locked out and forced to vote for things he didn’t really want to vote for.

Like tonight.

He talked about beating a “dead horse to death” regarding this issue, yet from the public’s point of view, Pearson rolled over. Just like always. As an observing member of the public, I didn’t hear a single argument or point made that justified Pearson’s stance against this funding formula. Just that he was “not happy.”

And just how much beating of that “dead horse to death” did he actually do with the rest of the Board, since he was not able to convince a single Board member —not even himself—to vote against the funding formula?

Nobody even looked the slightest little bit conflicted or uncomfortable. There was no discussion necessary to justify anyone’s vote in favor of this formula.

Pearson’s assertion that he “has no experience in this whatsoever,’ is also a bald-faced lie, unless he’s going to sit there and say he’s never discussed or voted for Relief Money distributions to the volunteer fire companies during all of his previous three terms. Was he sleepwalking through those votes, like he’s sleepwalking through this term?

There is only one possible conclusion that we can come to here: Pearson’s objections are so embarrassing, so blatantly self-serving and unsupportable, that even he cannot dare to voice them at a public meeting.

Relief allocation

It’s further worth noting, and probably related, that this year, BRVFC will be getting less money than they ever have from Relief funding; this is primarily due to the overall decrease in relief monies distributed by the state. I highly doubt that BRVFC will be understanding in this regard, even though they are still, as usual, getting the lion’s share of the funding.

Call it a hunch, call it intuition, but your Humble Blogress strongly, strongly suspects that Pearson’s flop sweat has little to do with any philosophical or intellectual objection to the “fairness” of this funding formula, and much more to do with the number of promises he’s broken to the BRVFC, and the ramifications of same.

2019 Budget

The Board voted to advertise the 2019 budget, which is available for public inspection on the Township’s website. I would note that Budget is Policy and you can get a good idea of what the Board’s priorities are for the coming year by examining what it is they want to spend taxpayer dollars on.

Gentle Readers, forgive me, but after sitting through a 2 hour and 37 minute Pearson flub-fest, I simply did not have the time or the stamina to do a comprehensive review of the 2019 Budget as part of this post. Obviously, the big ticket item for next year is the centrally located Township Firehouse. I will note for the record that the Supervisors cut some $830,000 from the initial proposed budget, for which they should be applauded.

A further discussion of the Budget, if warranted, will be covered in a subsequent blog post. In the meantime, by all means, look it over yourself. Pubilc comment is open for 30 days from advertisement.

Interesting Developments

Residences at Providence Town Center: Audubon Land Development (“ALD”) came before the Board for a conditional use hearing and tentative sketch plan approval for the Residences at Providence Town Center. Residents of Upper Providence may be otherwise familiar with this project as the proposed 585 unit apartment complex and hotel between Providence Town Center and White Springs Farms.

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The developer met with the Residents at White Springs Farms to discuss their objections and make what modifications to the plans that they could.

This being a somewhat major development, Pearson at least came prepared with what past experience suggests were questions formulated by his girlfriend, Gayle Latch, who used to sit on the Planning Commission (and now sits on the Zoning Hearing Board). Pearson was even kind enough to share his crib notes with Calci, who asked about open space, specifically, “where it is and how much is set aside.” Our instructor for Township Supervisor 101 this evening was ALD’s architect, Seth Shapiro, who patiently pointed out that the open space was everywhere the buildings, the roads, and the parking lots weren’t. These areas were helpfully shaded in green on the plans shown on the screen.

The Planning Commission reviewed and recommended for approval both the Conditional Use and the Tentative Sketch plan, however, the Board requested an extension on the Conditional Use and voted to table the approval of the tentative sketch plan.

HB Frazer: This was a relatively simple approval of a 30,000 square foot office/warehouse development off Egypt Road adjacent to the Meadows. HB Frazer will be moving its headquarters from King of Prussia to Upper Providence.

Phil do you have any questions
Do we have any questions, Phil?

Apparently no Democrats bothered to do their homework on this development, because when the presentation was over, all three Democrats looked at Barker to see if he had any questions or concerns.

Land development is a difficult concept to grasp without Barker. And because Barker was ok with the development, so was the rest of the Board. Approved unanimously.

Other Board Business

  • At a previous meeting, Barker asked for the “tiny house” applicant at Lewis Road and 422 to come before the Board to explain what it was that they were trying to do so that the Board could determine whether or not to send the Solicitor to oppose the application. The land is a small plot with a tiny, overlapping building envelope. After a most annoying, contradictory, and nebulous presentation by the landowner’s attorney, the Board voted to let the ZHB “do their thing.”
  • The Board also agreed to let the ZHB “do their thing” at 615 Port Providence Road development. Regular readers may recall that this applicant, whose project is in the vicinity of a certain dive bar of some renown, was the subject of a shakedown request by Pearson for public water for the “residents of the neighborhood.” The applicant has decided to wait to see if they are granted the zoning relief before pursuing public water options.
  • The Board approved applications for the following grants:
  • Multimodal grant for the Lewis Road corridor
  • Multimodal grant for improvements to the intersection of Black Rock Road and 113.
  • Approval of a grant consulting agreement with Firehouse Grants LLC for a SAFER grant, which will offset the costs of the salaries of two full time firefighters.
  • The Board tabled approval of the latest changes to the Administrative Code per Barker’s request.

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Sunblock: PA’s Worthless Sunshine Laws

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

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

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

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

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

Walking on Sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

From the FAQ section of the PA OOR website:

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

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

Are there penalties for violating the Sunshine Act?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not the Transparency you were looking for

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

upt1st Zimmerman 110716

UPT1st1107TransparencyUpperProvidence 1st 1101716 FB

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

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

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

White Letter to Mercury110716

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

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

LETTERS_ Vote ‘YES_ to expand Upper Providence Board of Supervisors

LETTERS_ Too much whining by ex-Upper Providence supervisor

LETTER_ Upper Providence needs expanded board

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

1MailersideB2MailerSideB

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

A Trip Down Transparency Lane

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

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

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

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

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

At the 4/4/18 Meeting and at the 4/16/18 Meeting, the Special Meeting on Fire and EMS and the regular Board meeting immediately following it, the Democrats unanimously pushed for the idea of a Medic Responder over a Centralized Township Ambulance.  In the two solid years that the previous Board had debated this issue, the idea of having a medic responder as an alternative to a full service ambulance was never proposed or considered.  Bearing in mind that it was a brand new idea, and remembering that the Democrats’ whole reason for the 60 day delay was to “get educated” on this issue, miraculously, there weren’t any questions on the Medic Responder service from Pearson, Higgins, or Calci.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But so what?

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

And maybe that’s enough.

More power to the Fembots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wreck Creation II – Electric Boogaloo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exact words
Those weren’t your exact words.

Barker asks, “Well then who did?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Decided.
We decided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calci then doubles down on those comments and says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearson just mis-spoke, is all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 – Agenda Item #3 – Recreation Center FAQs

The $1,250,000 Transfer from Reserves

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

Let me say that again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troubling.

Irreconcilable Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Other Board Business

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

Let the Sun Shine

Image result for let the sunshine 40 year old virgin

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

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

All.

The.

Time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exact words conseq
Were those your exact words, Greg?

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

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

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

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

Cell-abrasion

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

I’ll let his comments speak for themselves:

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

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

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

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

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

It makes no sense to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearson does not address any of this.

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

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

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

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

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

Spares Lane

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

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

Wreck-creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

A selection of slides from the presentation follows:

1 Rec

2 Rec

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

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

3 Rec

4 Rec

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

5 Rec

6 Rec

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

The 10 Step Goals of the Restructuring are as follows:

8 Rec9 Rec10 Rec11 Rec12 Rec13 Rec14 Rec15 Rec16 Rec17 Rec

 

Township Reccomendations follow:

18 Rec19 Rec20 Rec21 Rec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This suggestion is met with hearty applause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we have here is a failure to communicate

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

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

 

Farm

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

email to township

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Drawn, but Quartered

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

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

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

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

Other Board Business

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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