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

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

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

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

RTK

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

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

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

080718 Mossie Letter

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

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

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

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

I do not post any of this lightly.

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

RTKBlackRockFire -Redacted 0731

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

SUMMARY

Devolution

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

MAJOR POLICY DIFFERENCES

Policy Differences

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

January 2018:

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

February 2018:

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

March 2018:

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

April 2018:

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

May 2018:

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

June 2018:

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

July 2018:

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

THE FULL TIMELINE

January 2018: Staying the course

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

011118 Policy infractions

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

DFES SOG- 400.05 Responding Direct

DFES SOG- 400.07 Apparatus Staffing

DFES SOG- 400.08 Backing

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

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

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

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

1 invite to meet

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

1 0124 email cheat sheet

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

2 A Cheat sheet

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

2 B Cheat sheet

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

2 C Cheat sheet

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

2 D CheatSheet

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

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

012418 Calci-Overholt FEMS email exchange

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

012418 DFES Resolution

010118 UP-BRVFC Fire Service Agreement.Signed Copy

February 2018: The Turning Point

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

4 monday meeting

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

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

020918 UPFES Future Presentation

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

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

020918 BRVFC History

I sent the following email regarding these particular RTK documents:

4a 021218 meeting questions follow up

I received the following response:

4b meeting questions response

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

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

Meanwhile, Township policies are still being disregarded:

020418 Policy Violation

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

5 0222 BRVFC Agenda

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

March 2018: Overholt’s last stand

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

030618 Josh Draft Presentation email

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

030918 Email meeting with state

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

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

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

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

031318 Meeting BRVFC and Twnshp

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

031318 Pearson and Locasale respond

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

031618 letter to state

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

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

031818 Teiperman Bortnichak slide email

April 5, 2018 Fire Presentation as prepared b

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

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

012518 DFES SOG -102.00 – Department Infractions

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

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

6 Policy Infraction Email

Policy infraction is attached below, with name redacted:

032018 BRVFC Policy Infraction 3-2018

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

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

032118 Conference call email

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

032118 Overholt Presentation edit email

UPT FEMS Presentation Overholt Edit

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

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

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

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

032218 email intergrated fire companies

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

032418 Tieperman Bortnichak edits

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

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

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

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

012518 Mont Clare Station012418 Mont Clare Station Twp response

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

020418 MontClareStation

022618 Mont Clare Appraisal

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

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

032718 Stipend Program

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

032018 We are available either date

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

032918 Latest revisions based on BRVFC meeting

20180329104422301

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

032918 forwarded to overholtApril 2018:  BRVFC taking control

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

040318 Latest Draft

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

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

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

040618 Self Congratulatory email040718 self congratulatory email number 2

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

041018 Come to Jesus

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

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

041518 Calci Signing Statement

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

041618 Kasper email 1041618 Kasper email 2

This is an interesting email for a several reasons.

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

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

041618 Attachment F Email

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

041618 Attachment F Taking Command from Overholt

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

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

042018 discuss the plan attchment F

May 2018: Rolling downhill without the brakes

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

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

050118 Updated staff integration email

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

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

050118 Project plan pros roll into BRVFC not vice versa excerpt

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

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

050118 Collaborative Agreement Scope excerpt

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

050218 Overholt can I please be included email

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

050618 can we trust josh1050618 can we trust josh2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

051018 Pfizer

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

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

051418 May 16 meeting

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

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

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

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

051418 is this acceptable051518 Bryan taps the brakes

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

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

051718 Steering committee needs one more member

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

051818 Driver training

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

051918 Drawings for Oaks FH email

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

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

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

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

June 2018 Momentum continues to build

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

060118 Get Phil and Al on board

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

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

060518 no need to involve the Board

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

061418 DHuy Proposal email

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

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

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

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

 

061918 DHuy eng email Rec Center

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

062018 Minutes request from BRVFC

062018 Here are the minutes

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

062118 Water Rescue

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

062218 Email from DHuy forwarded to Locasale for review

Executive Steering Committee Meeting Minutes

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

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

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

060618 Steering Committee Excerpt New Station Design subcommittee

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

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

060618 Exec Steering Cmty Minutes

061418 Exec Steering Cmty Minutes

062018 Exec Steering Cmty Minutes

July 2018:  Overholt Resigns

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

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

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

A final Reminder:

1 BuckStopsHere

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

Sunblock: PA’s Worthless Sunshine Laws

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

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

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

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

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

Walking on Sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

From the FAQ section of the PA OOR website:

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

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

Are there penalties for violating the Sunshine Act?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not the Transparency you were looking for

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

upt1st Zimmerman 110716

UPT1st1107TransparencyUpperProvidence 1st 1101716 FB

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

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

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

White Letter to Mercury110716

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

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

LETTERS_ Vote ‘YES_ to expand Upper Providence Board of Supervisors

LETTERS_ Too much whining by ex-Upper Providence supervisor

LETTER_ Upper Providence needs expanded board

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

1MailersideB2MailerSideB

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

A Trip Down Transparency Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But so what?

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

And maybe that’s enough.

More power to the Fembots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Emergency!

Our story so far:  The Ambulance issue in Upper Providence has been going on for well over two years at this point.  For recaps of the discussion points see here, here and here.  The issue sparked some fireworks each time, most recently at the last Board meeting when the Board voted in favor of what was billed as “Objective Staff Recommendations” for Fire and EMS policies.

The ultimate source of contention was whether these policy recommendations are, in fact, objective and those of Staff.

As mentioned in a previous post, I filed a “Right to Know” request for the information that went into the calculation of the Ambulance vs. Medic Responder score card (below) presented at the 4/4 special meeting of Upper Providence Township.

8h AltScoring

For those unfamiliar with the RTK law, Ballotopedia has a pretty good synopsis on their website:

The Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, also known as the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law, is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

Prior to 2008, the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act was widely regarded as one of the worst in the country, partly because the pre-2008 law presumed that government records were not public, unless someone who wanted the record could establish otherwise. A law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell “flipped the presumption.” This new law went into full effect on January 1, 2009 and it states, in sharp distinction to the previous law, that all documents will be presumed to be open to the public unless the agency holding them can prove otherwise.

Since the current meeting hall was proven inadequate to serving the public during the last two meetings of the Board of Supervisors, and since whining against the construction of the larger meeting hall is one of the Upper Providence Democrats’ favorite hobby horses, this particular page may be of interest as it also outlines the “Open Meetings” provision of PA’s sunshine laws, a provision with which the Democrats may also want to acquaint themselves:

The General Assembly finds that the right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision-making of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.

As for the coordinated messaging and tactics amongst the newly elected Democrats?  I’ll let Sunshine laws speak for themselves. Close observers of the last several meetings will note that Vagnozzi and Barker approach each issue before the Board with completely different perspectives.  Barker’s critique of the medic responder unit centered on the outdated model and his personal experience with it running calls.  Vagnozzi’s critique came from experience as well, but a different kind of experience backed up by well researched facts.  The Democrats, on the other hand, have been lockstep in their reasons for rejecting the Ambulance, right down to the coordinated, unprecedented move of “Pearson’s Girls” each composing “signing statements” to read aloud at a public meeting.

For those of you that thought you were voting for a five member Board in November 2016, I’m here to tell you: this Board is still three members. And their perspective on things is anything but fresh.

The RTK

At the 4/4 meeting, Supervisor Al Vagnozzi accused the Democrats of “bullying” Township staff into presenting a policy direction that showed favoritism towards the Democrats preferred option of doing as little as possible putting in a medic responder as opposed to an ambulance.  Vagnozzi reiterated that accusation in a letter to the Times Herald and at the 4/16 meeting of the BOS.  Having spent the better part of the last two years of my term hashing out EMS and Fire issues, I found myself in agreement with Vagnozzi in his evaluation of the presentation.

I submitted the following RTK request to the Township on April 19:

I am requesting all information (records) related to the following specific data points on the “Scoring of EMS Options” slide included in the Upper Providence Fire and EMS slide presentation and the special public meeting of the Board of Supervisors held on April 4, 2018:

  1. All information (records) used to calculate the data point entitled “Impact on Regional Providers,” and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic Responder.
  2. All information (records) used to calculate the data points entitled “Response Times” and “Crew Uptime Availability” and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic responder on these data points
  3. The differences between the “Response Time” criteria and the “Crew Uptime Availability” criteria used to arrive at the scoring. 

Along with several documents, I received the following response from Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan:

I am attaching various documents that were a part of the overall decision-making process.  In the end, however, the point that was emphasized to me by Tim and Bryan was that no document exists which directly caused or led to the assignment of a particular number in the scoring columns (1, 2 or 3).  These end scores are based on subjective experience even though a lot of what was considered involved actual calculations.  For example, you will see various calculations and estimates of costs provided by Josh, price quotes for equipment, etc., but when it comes down to saying whether all of those numbers drive a cost score of a “1” or a “3”, they do not directly compel a particular number but are the basis for deciding what number to assign.  Strictly speaking, there is no document that is responsive to the request in that no document includes a formula that ends in a result of “1”, “2”, or “3”.  The attached documents, along with countless meetings and phone calls, experience working in the Township, experience working elsewhere, and even common sense, all combined to drive the ultimate assignment of a single digit number to the relevant column.

This, by the way, is not really typical of how these objective scoring matrices are settled upon.  In my experience, each member of whatever committee was evaluating a particular decision was given a scoring sheet on which they scored various options.  The scores are then objectively tallied to a final scorecard.  When I was a part of the Township, we did quite a few of these exercises, for example, when we hired the Chief of Police and the Township Manager (and it should be noted that John Pearson took part in both of these evaluations).

That all being said, color me completely unsurprised that this particular scoring matrix did not use that same methodology.

I received the following documents as part of my request:

As mentioned above, the 2017 EMS White Paper I referenced in a previous post was part of the decision making process.

really
I don’t think we’re getting the whole picture, Dixie.

My RTK request also yielded an undated slides from a prior strategic planning session (entitled “DRAFT UPFES Future Presentation”) that were notably different from the slides presented at the 4/4 meeting.  For the purposes of this post, I will refer to the DRAFT UPFES Future Presentation as the “March Slideshow” and the slideshow presented at the 4/4 meeting as the “Official Slideshow.”

Also included was an email dated 3/21/18 with the subject, “Slide Comments” from Assistant Manager Bortnichak to Township Manager Tieperman and copying only Supervisors Calci and Pearson.  This email contains a list of suggested edits to the March Slide Show.  You may recall that Calci volunteered to work with Vagnozzi on the ambulance subcommittee at the February 5 meeting, so this raises an interesting question:

Why was Pearson copied on these slide edits but Vagnozzi was not?

EMS Ordinance

Budget Discrepancies

The first thing I noticed right off was the striking differences between the comparative budget presented at the April 4 meeting, here:

8i AltBudget
Year 1 Budget Analysis from the April 4 public presentation
8j AltBudgetyrs2
Year 2+ Budget Analysis from the April 4 public presentation

And the Budget that I received as part of the RTK, here:

Original budget
Budget analysis from RTK

These numbers are remarkable in that not only is the Ambulance option less expensive—much less expensive—in subsequent years, but it’s less expensive in the initial year as well!  This is quite shocking and lends considerable weight to Vagnozzi’s assertions of doctored numbers and bullied staff.

Which Agencies are Impacted?

“Impact on other agencies” was probably the most oft-cited reason for choosing a Medic Responder over an Ambulance, especially after the “Exclusively serves UPT” line item was eviscerated as unrealistic.

skeptical
Seems sketchy

Recall that Higgins went all Hippocratic Oath in her prepared remarks with her lecture on “first doing no harm” and Calci responded to specific questions with a statement about not “wanting to upset the applecart.”  Pearson, of course, has been vocal about this from the beginning.  In fact, the impact to other regional providers was pretty much the only decision point left to the Democrats by the time the vote came around (especially since even the rudimentary first year cost advantage disappears with the information provided above.)

Trappe Ambulance is only EMS that submitted revised forecast numbers.  There was a set of forecast numbers submitted in August to the previous Board and a new set of numbers submitted to the new Board

medicrespondes
Like New. $80,000 OBO

in November 2017.  I’m not sure why this is, as no explanation was given by Trappe Ambulance.  I was not privy to these numbers until after I left office and I have tried several times to reconcile them with the orignal numbers we recieved to no avail.  I sent a follow-up email to Tieperman for clarification as to why a second set of numbers was provided, but he was unable to offer an explanation either.

Since neither Friendship nor Lower Providence submitted “revised numbers” and my RTK called for “All information (records) used to calculate the data point entitled ‘Impact on Regional Providers,’ and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic Responder,” I can only assume that the revised Trappe numbers were the only numbers that were considered in arriving at the scoring on this data point.  But this raises the following questions:

  1. What necessitated Trappe’s submission of revised numbers after they presented different numbers in August to the previous Board?
  2. Were Friendship and Lower Providence asked if they wished to submit revised numbers as well?
  3. Were Trappe’s revised numbers the only factor behind finding an alternative to the Ambulance?

Finally, it’s been stated multiple times by staff, Republicans and Democrats on the Board of Supervisors that EMS call volume will probably be able to 100% support an ambulance in Upper Providence in two years, but so what?  If Upper Providence institutes a Township ambulance in two years, this issue is still relevant.  The real question is not whether or not UPT impacts regional providers, but WHEN they are going to impact these providers.

What does Springfield EMS have to do with any of this?

Another data point discussed in the “Slide Comments” email was the impending folding of another Montgomery County Ambulance Squad.  This event hit the news the same day as the last Board meeting.  Montgomery News:

The Community Ambulance Association of Ambler will be taking over Springfield Township’s ambulance responsibilities as of April 28.

During April 11’s board of commissioners business meeting, a 6-1 board vote terminated the Springfield Ambulance Association, and a 7-0 board vote hired the Community Ambulance Association of Ambler in its stead.

The email was rather vague about what the closing of Springfield Township Ambulance had to do with the overall presentation of Fire and EMS policy in Upper Providence and in what context that information was to be presented.  It appears that Springfield Ambulance owed Springfield Township over $300,000.

A difficult business environment driven by low insurance reimbursements has made the smaller ambulance associations a dying breed, officials said.

Commissioners worked very hard to find a path forward for Springfield Ambulance including public support. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach agreement where we would have sufficient control to turn around the operation. Moving forward with Ambler will put us at far less financial risk in the future while ensuring the highest level of service,” Harbison said.

Officials said a modest amount of money will come through two more payrolls, but without a source of revenue after April 28, Springfield Ambulance will likely be unable to finance the debt owed to the township.

The township’s agreement with Ambler is for five years and will include a new ambulance [emphasis mine], as well as annual support from the township “in the high five figures depending on a few variables,” Harbison said.

Yes, you read that correctly:  Springfield Township is buying an Ambulance for Ambler.

An earlier article offers a little more insight into the problems in Springfield Township.  Montgomery News again (emphasis mine):

As the ambulance has teetered on the brink of insolvency, township board members have offered fiscal and administrative support to the ambulance directors, contingent on a change in leadership. The township’s preconditions called for the replacement of half of the ambulance’s eight board members, as well as the replacement of the ambulance’s current chief of operations.

According to officials, the ambulance’s board of directors has decided to reject the offer.

“We want to take over the board — those were our terms,” Springfield Township Board of Commissioners President Jeff Harbison said. “Change the board, change the chief. They don’t want us to replace the chief.

“We have the ability as a township to designate what they do but not how they do it. We have the ability to fire them, but we don’t have the ability to run them. All we can do is turn off the switch,” he said.

Officials said the insolvency of the ambulance can only be rectified by monetary support from the township, though the ambulance’s debt has been accruing for the better part of a decade.

[…]

“The issue is quite concerning,” Maxwell said. “We’ve been supporting them for several years through their payroll. They haven’t been timely in keeping up with their payments. There should be enough money coming in to sustain them, but because they’re unwilling to share any financial information, we’re basically blind as to where their problems are and how we can help fix them.

If I haven’t made this point in the past, let me make it now:  In Pennsylvania, the local governing body is charged with providing for the health and safety of its residents.  Most municipalities do this in a variety of ways:  through contracts with service providers or volunteer agencies and in the case of police, either a township –employed police department, or through the Pennsylvania State Police.  The point being, the provision of these services is arguably the number one duty of local elected officials and if there are problems with how these services are provided, it is incumbent upon that elected body to work through those issues for the good of their residents; not the good of the service provider.

Kudos to Springfield Township for making what I am sure was a very difficult decision in the best interests of their residents.

Fire Ordinance

Lest you think a shortage of Volunteer firefighters is a problem unique to Upper Providence Township, think again.  The issue of dwindling Fire Company Volunteers was in the news this week. TribLive:

Township officials from across the state passed a resolution Wednesday demanding that Gov. Tom Wolf call a special legislative session to address the volunteer crisis affecting local fire and emergency management services.

The resolution was unanimously adopted during the 96th annual educational conference of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) in Hershey.

PSATS President Shirl Barnhart called attention to the problems township supervisors face in keeping their residents safe and protected at a time when volunteers are dwindling and costs are soaring.

In recent decades, he said, the ranks of fire company volunteers have dropped from 300,000 strong in the 1960s and ’70s to below 50,000 today, a sobering statistic.

“If state and local governments don’t find a way to recruit and retain these very necessary volunteers, communities will be forced to pay nearly $10 billion a year for fire service, according to figures cited by the state fire commissioner,” said Barnhart, a supervisor and volunteer firefighter in Morgan Township, Greene County.

 

In fact, five fire companies are holding open houses this weekend to boost volunteer numbers.  Mercury:

Each of the five fire companies — Black Rock Volunteer Fire Co., Centre Square Fire Co., Linfield Fire Co., Limerick Fire Co. and the Royersford Fire Department — will independently hold open houses this Saturday, May 5, to promote the importance of volunteer participation.

In recent years, volunteer fire companies everywhere have been experiencing an on-going shrinkage of the manpower pool. “Volunteer fire fighters within the commonwealth are a dying breed,” said Joseph LoCasale, president of Black Rock Volunteer FC. “The primary purpose of this Saturday’s multiple open houses is to let residents of our service areas know that their fire companies are staffed by volunteers and that there is always a need for additional manpower. It is our hope that more residents will step forward and give it a try.”

He stressed that being a volunteer with a fire company doesn’t mean that you have to be a firefighter. “If fire fighting is not for you, there are other opportunities to help out, such as fire police, administration, fire prevention education, vehicle and station maintenance and public relations.”

If you are concerned about the rising costs of fire protection–and you should be–volunteering at the local fire company is a way you can not only make a difference in your community, but it can help keep your taxes down as well.

Regarding the Township’s plan to move forward, the RTK revealed some interesting findings on this subject as well, mostly in comparing the March Slide Show presentation and the Official Presentation.  Let’s discuss:

Black Rock’s Mont Clare Station

There is some in-depth discussion over the disposition of the Mont Clare fire station in the March presentation, but this entire discussion is missing from the Official Slide Show and indeed, the only mention is the rather vague:

5 FirePolicy1
Official Slide Show

The following slide, which was included in the March Slide Show, tells the story of the Mont Clare station:

MC Station
March Slide Show

In my personal experience on the Board of Supervisors, the Township was often put in the position of reacting to conflicting messages from within the BRVFC leadership structure.  A good example of this dynamic is the Mont Clare Station situation mentioned above, wherein leadership told the Township on multiple occasions in private meetings that they needed help phasing out the Station, only to have other members of leadership publicly call the Mont Clare Station “100% viable.”

Moving Engine 93

One of the biggest challenges presented in the Official Slide show for both Fire and EMS was the geography of our oddly shaped township.

Definingthechallenges
Slide from the Official Slide Show

The Coverage maps below were included in the March presentation but were missing from the Official Presentation.  I am very familiar with these maps as I am pretty sure they came directly from the Township’s 2014 Fire and EMS study completed by Fire Planning Associates and were prepared at a time when there was still a significant response out of the Mont Clare station.  Keep in mind that the “response zones” around the Mont Clare station should not be coded green (this is the meaning of the yellow notation on “needing better maps” on the slide below.)

Coverage maps
Slide from the March Slide Show

The map on the left is actually the current coverage map during weekday daytime hours, with the Township’s Engine 93 responding out of the Township’s central Black Rock campus.  The map on the right shows coverage with no unit responding from the centralized location.

Recall that one of the policies that the Township is proposing is relocating Engine 93 to the Oaks station until the new centralized building is complete, which realistically won’t be until mid 2019/early 2020, even on an aggressive timeline.  If, according to Higgins, these policy decisions are being driven entirely by response times, why would the Township propose moving our centrally located Township engine 93 to house it in the southeast corner of the Township at the Oaks fire station? This does not improve response times and it flies in the face of the geographical challenge laid out in the slide above from the Official Slide Show.  In fact, this very point was made was in the March Slide Show:

two orgs independent
Slide from March Slideshow

This policy decision has the potential to make response times worse as it removes the centralized coverage area currently covered by Engine 93, effectively undoing the coverage the Township is currently providing for the recently populated center of the township .  With the important stipulation that I wholeheartedly agree that a hybrid Township/Volunteer organization is the best model to pursue, I am unclear about the impetus for the directive to move Engine 93 to the Oaks firehouse at all, even if it is “temporary,” especially since Engine 93’s response times have thus far been proven to be superior to the Volunteers.

2c Response times
Slide from Official Slideshow

Why not wait until the centrally located Fire and EMS building is complete to implement this program, and in the meantime, simply allow the volunteers to respond with Engine 93 out of the Township campus?

Stipend

Let me first remind my readers that Upper Providence Township currently has a “stipend” program.  This program, called the “Volunteer Incentive Program” or VIP, pays an annual amount to each responding volunteer firefighter based on the number of calls and number of firefighters that responded within the Township on an annual basis.

roy
You’re gonna pay me to do what?

The Township awards an annual lump sum to each of our first responding fire companies, and it is up to each of the individual companies to determine how that money gets distributed to their members.  To my knowledge, Upper Providence is the only Township in the area that has this program.

So what is this new “stipend” program?”  Good question.  When Barker sought clarification on this question at the last meeting, he was quickly shut down by Calci with the admonition to not get “too deep in the weeds” on this policy point.  There is no mention of a stipend in the March Slideshow.  For details, please stick around after Quizzo.

Qualifications of Fire Fighters

The Requirement for Blackrock firefighters to meet township standards was included in the March Slideshow but is missing from the Official Slideshow.

FF quals
Slide from March Slide Show

This issue was also addressed in the March 23 email discussing the slide edits, where it was suggested that Firefighter qualifications be defined.  Why was this discussion omitted?  I can think of several reasons, all plausible, but none of them transparent.

  1. Has the Township decided to forgo requiring BRVFC members to meet certain Township standards?
  2. Was the slide omitted to avoid questions as to what constitutes a qualified fire fighter and how many qualified fire fighters BRVFC has?

Bortnichak’s email discusses including standards and a definition of what a “qualified fire fighter is,” but these discussion points never made it into the Official Slide Presentation.

By the way…

When the BRVFC chief told me that it no longer seemed as if BRVFC had an equal seat at the table in the fall of 2016, I was honest with him:  they did not.  The Township needed to take the lead.  This may be the source of their animosity towards me; I’m not sure and I will probably never know.

But speaking of animosity:  as an aside, I noted that the latest BRVFC Fundraiser Flyer mailed into homes this week makes reference to “recent blog posts by certain individuals mistakenly stated that Black Rock has significant cash and does not need additional UPT funding.”  Setting aside the rather unprofessional nature of this statement, if there is another blogger that is covering Upper Providence Township, please contact me, as I am happy to pool resources.

Please note:  This blog has never made any representations about BRVFC’s reserves.  If BRVFC’s reserves are mentioned at all on this blog, it is only through linking statements by BRVFC’s members themselves, either via their newsletter or through Facebook.  It has also never been stated on this blog that BRVFC does not need additional UPT funding; on the contrary, if you have received a fund drive mailer from BRVFC, I encourage you to donate.

This blog has, however, on numerous occasions, wondered aloud why the Democrats campaigned against and misrepresented the Township’s new fire funding formula, but then, once elected, did not restore the funding during the 30-day period in which they could re-open the budget.  This blog has further pondered why members of BRVFC have thus far neglected to hold the Democrats accountable for this slight. Indeed, the funding formula change is glossed over as “forecasting a reduction in 2018 income” on the BRVFC fundraising flyer.  I can only assume that it is far more politically expedient (and less awkward on Quizzo night) to blame “recent blog posts by certain individuals” than to bite the hand that puts you back on equal footing in determining Township fire policy.  I get it.

1MailersideA
100% drop in interest in this issue since taking office

“Objective Recommendation of Staff…?” 

As Vagnozzi has repeatedly and validly noted with regard to the Township’s provision of EMS services, the safety of the residents must take precedence over the interests of the organizations providing these services.  It would seem, based on the results of the RTK, that not only was the EMS portion of the April 4 public presentation altered from Staff’s original presentation, but the fire services portion was altered by the Democrats as well.

adam12
We’re investigating a complaint on improper use of the word “objective.”

Chairman John Pearson and “his girls” want to avoid responsibility for the new Fire and EMS policy by calling it an “objective recommendation of Staff.”  I think it is safe to say that the public presentation of April 4 was changed significantly enough that it cannot be legitimately be called objective or be attributed to Staff.  This plan is the Democrats’ plan for providing Fire and EMS services to the Township.  Staff’s fingerprints on that April 4 presentation are barely visible.

Parting thoughts:

Should the Township be able to determine the needs of their residents and therefore be permitted to dictate the best way to provide for the safety of its residents?

Or should elected officials defer to their bar buddies to hammer out FEMS policy over beers after Quizzo the service providers to tell the Township the level of service they are willing to provide?

Which option do you think will keep us safer?