Partisan Vitriol over Tredyffrin Interim Supervisor Appointment – Local Politics Should Set a Better Example

For many years I have attended Tredyffrin Township supervisor meetings and for the most part, they have been relatively congenial. Sadly, last night the behavior of some does not represent the community that I know and that I love.

It was painful to sit in the audience and watch the partisan battle waged over who should fill the District 1 (East) vacancy left by the resignation of long-serving Republican supervisor Paul Olson. The interim appointed supervisor serves 4-1/2 months, until the end of 2019.

Four qualified residents applied for the interim supervisor seat – Julie Gosse (D), Raffi Terzian (R), Judy DiFilippo (R) and Bryan Humbarger (R).  Democrat Gosse and Republican Raffi are the endorsed candidates for the District 1 (East) and will appear on the November ballot. All four candidates were interviewed by the supervisor personnel committee (Murph Wysocki (D), Kevin O’Nell (D) and Heather Greenberg (R)) in a public meeting a couple of weeks ago. The Board of Supervisors currently holds a Democrat majority that would not change with the selection of a Republican interim supervisor.

It was obvious from the moment that we arrived, that the results of the interim supervisor appointment were known before the vote was taken.  With a Democrat majority board, of course the vote count would go to the D candidate. And conversely, if the Board of Supervisors was in the hands of the Republicans, undoubtedly the vote would go to an R candidate. Therefore the selection of Democrat candidate Julie Gosse for the District 1 (East) interim supervisor seat was assumed.

As an Independent (and a realist) – I was actually OK with the knowledge that the selection process had already happened before the meeting started – that’s politics. What was not OK was what happened next. From the moment that the chair of the Board of Supervisors Murph Wysocki made the motion to appoint Julie Gosse as interim supervisor the meeting quickly spiraled into a political battle.

It would be impossible for me to explain the partisan vitriol and the back and forth. Looking around the room, it was obvious that other residents had the same uncomfortable feeling watching as myself. Our community deserves better and our elected officials should be held to a higher standard.

America’s national political scene is rife with polarization and dysfunction but I naively thought that here in Tredyffrin Township we all get along. As the Republicans and Democrats battle over national concerns, guess I believed that at the local level we are all neighbors and friends first and political party second. After witnessing the partisan attacks at last night’s meeting that view is forever changed. Candidates should be evaluated on more than the D or the R after their name. Local politics should set a better example.

I encourage everyone to watch the video of the supervisor meeting and draw your own conclusion. Here’s the link and the interim supervisor appointment begins at timestamp 46.03.

https://tredyffrin.viebit.com/player.php?hash=6sWR0GtJz5q0#

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Ice Cream & Conversation w/ Chester County Commissioners at Handels — Thursday, Aug. 22, 6:30 – 8 PM

Perfect weather for ice cream with our Chester County Commissioners – Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terrance Farrell — Join them on Thursday, August 22, 6:30 – 8 PM at Handel’s, 576 Lancaster Ave, Berwyn. Ice Cream & Conversation is a perfect nonpartisan opportunity for local residents to ask questions and share concerns with our Commissioners.

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Backlash Continues over T/E School District’s 3.9% Tax Increase – Some on School Board Defend Annual Increases

Since the publication of the Philadelphia Inquirer article regarding local school tax increases last week, there has been much discussion on social media — with at least two currently serving school board directors defending T/E School District’s tax increases on Facebook.  In T/E School District residents have faced annual tax increases for the last fifteen years.  And for the 2019-20 year, our District has the second highest tax increase (3.9%) in the Philly region.  Not a distinction many of us want.

Unlike some places, we are fortunate to have an abundance of educated and engaged residents in our community — and many with knowledge and expertise in finances. As examples, Ray Clarke, Mike Heaberg and Neal Colligan are residents with financial backgrounds who attend most school board meetings and routinely offer financial advice and comments.

Although school board members encourage attendance at its meetings, it has been my view that many of the comments and/or suggestions by residents are either ignored or not seriously considered. I believe that you should “play to your strengths” and would encourage the school board to take advantage of the financial expertise that some of our qualified residents are offering.  Everyone cannot be an expert in all things, so school board, why not take advantage of the high level financial skill set which exists in the community.

Following the publication of the recent Philadelphia Inquirer article, one of our financial gurus Neal Colligan wrote a letter to the T/E School Board.  The communication addresses the District’s finances and Neal has generously agreed to share it below:

Greetings School Board,

I’m writing to you on financial matters.  While I may appear to be a “broken record”, the financial decisions of the T/ESD affect everyone in our District whether they have children in the schools or not.  The Inquirer recently did a story on School Tax increases.  In this article, you may notice that T/E had the highest dollar increase in school taxes in Chester County for THIS year, for the past 5 YEARS and the last 10 YEARS.  It adds up and is, obviously, a burden to all property owners.

Next year, you will have to decide on a new teacher’s contract.  This is the largest (by far) municipal contract impacting our community.  A multi-year contract could well approach a Quarter of a Billion Dollars…it’s very important.  So, before you get into that issue, it may well be a time to look at recent financial decisions to see if we can learn anything about our process that could/should change in the future.

As you’re well aware, this past Budget season you learned that the District had filed erroneous State Financial Disclosure forms increasing your taxing authority beyond what it should have been. I believe you have begun to deal with the correction of that issue…I applaud those of you that moved to “do the right thing”.

Just this last year you approved a $30 MM bond issue even though you had no use for those funds for two years. You were convinced that “rates were at or near their low and that it was a good time to Borrow”.  We may want to examine that decision.  The Carry on that borrowing is substantial, for the two years that the money is unused it amounts to about $2.4 MM ($30 MM x .04% x 2 years).  Was that a wise move?  Rather than rates going up, as you were led to believe, rates have plummeted well over 100 basis points on the 10-year (the statistic that the bond seller used to compare).  This also has financial impact…in a simple calculation: $30 MM x .01% x 10 years…or $3 MM dollars!  That’s a possible interest savings of well over 5 MILLION DOLLARS.  That kind of money, even over a 10-year period, could fund a lot of educational expenses.

Those decisions have been made and we can’t go back even though we may wish we could.  The important take-away, IMHO, is your decision making process.  Are you getting the information you need to make good decisions, do you trust the “data” you are being given???  I suggest; we can do better.

Are your BEST people; Administration and Board representatives; in charge of formulating your strategies???  Do you need other professional voices; hired or volunteer; to help you make these large fiscal decisions.  If YES; and I think you would agree the answer is YES: now may be the time to get your “Process” in order.  Your coming up on another large Borrowing for the expansion of the High School, you’re coming off an accounting issue that was obfuscated and denied for a long time (by both your key Admin people and your key Board members), and you have in front of you the renewal of the LARGEST municipal contract in our community.  Those are BIG items; we’re counting on you to make good decisions.  Give yourself the best chance to do the right things by changing your Process if it helps.

Members of this community are always here to help.

Neal Colligan

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T/E School District Ties for Second for Highest School Tax Increase in Philly Region & Delivered 37% School Tax Increase to Residents in Last Decade! Is This Sustainable?

Last week I was contacted by Laura McCrystal, a writer with the Philadelphia Inquirer asking about TESD’s recently approved tax increase of 3.9%.  Although she was very aware of our District’s ongoing saga over the $1.2 million accounting error, Laura was clear that the article she was working on was specific to greater Philadelphia area school districts and a comparative analysis of school taxes.

For the record, the $1.2 million accounting error caused by the District’s delayed payment of a special ed invoices remains an open issue. Although the school board acknowledged and voted to correct the error with the PA Department of Education, as of the last school board meeting it had not yet been done.

The Philadelphia Inquirer published its article, “How much are your school taxes increasing? Here’s a district-by-district look at the Philly region” which is a fascinating read — and analysis of tax increases in the region. Although the T/E School District generally like to come in at first place, on the tax increase list we tied for second highest increase! Yes, our District received the distinction of the second highest tax increase (3.9%) in the greater Philadelphia region – second only to Morrisville School District in Bucks County with a 6.7% tax increase.  (If you recall, the T/E School Board had originally passed the proposed final budget (5-4 vote) in late April with a 6% tax increase which was later reduced to 3.9% in June.).  Below shows the highest tax increase school districts:

In discussion with the Philadelphia writer, I was asked about the impact of rising taxes on the community. As was stated in the article, I worry “ about a lack of scrutiny on the school budget and its rising taxes because so many residents move to the district so that they can send their children to its high-performing schools. “There are some who are inclined not to be concerned about the taxes that are being paid because they feel like the value they get offsets that,” she said. “But I think part of the problem is that as a result of people moving here for the school district … the budget process is not scrutinized as much as it would be.”

I expressed concern that our school district tax increase is not an isolated one year increase – but that we should look at our tax increases year after year. As was stated in the article, I have been tracking the tax increases in T/E School District for the last 15 years and you need to go all the way back to the 2004-05 year for the last zero tax increase! Looking at the chart above, you see that our District has had an 18% tax increase over the last 5 years and a whopping 37% during the last 10 years.

I excerpted neighboring school districts Unionville-Chadds Ford, Upper Merion, Phoenixville, Great Valley and Downingtown from the Philadelphia Inquirer chart.

Looking at nearby Great Valley School District, they are keeping taxes significantly lower than T/E with a 1.2% tax increase for 2019-20 school year, 8% increase for 5 years and 18% increase for 10 years. Great Valley is another high achieving school district with similar performing students, special ed needs, rising pension costs, etc. so what accounts for the dramatic tax difference between GVSD and T/E?

But look at Downingtown Area School District! According to Niche, Downingtown Area School District has 12,656 students in grades K-12 with a student-teacher ratio of 15 – 1 and according to state test scores, 69% of students are at least proficient in math and 85% in reading.

Some will argue that Downingtown Area School District is not in the highest performing echelon of area school districts (like T/E, Unionville-Chadds Ford, Lower Merion or Great Valley) but they operate ten elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools and somehow manage to have a ZERO tax increase for 2019-20, ZERO tax increase for the last 5 years and only 7% tax increase for the last 10 years.

Downingtown is operating a large school district that has rising pension costs and increased special ed expenses like all the other school districts, yet successfully delivers zero tax increases to their residents year after year.

I’m not suggesting that we all move to Downingtown School District but there should be some kind of balance — why is it that as residents of the T/E School District we are faced with significant tax increases year after year?

Families move to the T/E community for the school district and are generally satisfied as long as the high test scores are maintained. As a result, there is a certain complacency when it comes to the District’s budget and our ever-increasing taxes. Guess the question becomes, how long are these yearly tax increases sustainable by the District’s taxpayers?

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Tredyffrin District 1 Supervisor Vacancy: 4 Residents Apply – Julie Gosse, Raffi Terzian, Judy DiFilippo & Bryan Humbarger – Public Interview Monday, August 5, 7 PM

The recent resignation of long-serving Republican supervisor Paul Olson in Tredyffrin Township District 1 (he was first elected in 1976 and served 43 years!) requires the appointment of an interim appointment. Persons interested in the interim supervisor appointment were asked to submit letters of interest (with resumes) through Friday, July 26 to Tredyffrin Township.

On Monday, August 5 at 7 PM at Tredyffrin Township municipal building, the Personnel Committee of the Board of Supervisors — Murph Wysocki (D), Kevin O’Nell (D) and Heather Greenberg (R) – will interview the interim supervisor candidates in a public meeting. Following the interview, Wysocki, O’Nell and Greenberg will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors and the Board will vote on the appointment at its Monday, August 19 meeting.

With the District 1 (East) seat on the November ballot, the interim appointed supervisor will serve 4-1/2 months, until the end of 2019.  Julie Gosse (D) and Raffi Terzian (R) are the endorsed candidates for the District 1 (East) seat and were expected to apply for the interim supervisor position.

Gosse and Terzian did apply for the District 1 interim supervisor appointment but they are not the only candidates!  Twenty year veteran of the Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors Judy DiFilippo (R) has applied for the interim position as has Bryan Humbarger (R), an active Berwyn Fire Company firefighter/EMT since 1994.  Both previously elected township officials, former supervisor DiFilippo and township auditor Humbarger are interested in the District 1 interim position but are not on the ballot as candidates in the general election in November.

There is much on the agenda for the Board of Supervisors this fall. Included, but not limited to:

  • 2020 budget process and capital improvement plan
  • Long-term sustainable funding solutions for Fire/EMS
  • 2020 Comprehensive Plan
  • Historic Preservation Ordinance
  • Storm Water management issues
  • Update on zoning ordinances – including digital billboard signage!

The above is but a sampling of the important issues facing the township in the upcoming months.  An interim supervisor appointment of four months is not sufficient time for someone to learn on the job — the public deserves an interim District 1 supervisor who can hit the ground running on day one.

 All four candidates are qualified but who of the applicants (Gosse, Terzian, DiFilippo or Humbarger) has the relevant background, experience and expertise to fill the leadership vacancy?  

It is in the hands of the personnel committee – township supervisors Murph Wysocki and Kevin O’Nell and republican Heather Greenberg to recommend the candidate that can best serve the residents when appointed as District 1 (East) interim supervisor on August 16.

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Sen. Andy Dinniman No Fan of Digital Billboards – Shows His Support for BAN the Digital Billboard in Paoli on Facebook

On his Facebook page this morning, Senator Andy Dinniman continues to speak out against digital billboards — and supports our BAN the Digital Billboard in Paoli campaign!  Thank you Senator for standing with the residents of Tredyffrin Township in our opposition; we appreciate your support!

Thank you Senator Andy Dinniman for opposing digital billboards!
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A “Community Not Divided” – The Fate of the Digital Billboard Rests With Zoning Hearing Board – Final Decision October 24

Thank you to the many residents who filled the seats of the township building or stood in the back of Keene Hall last night for the Zoning Hearing Board meeting. Thank you to the many residents who last night (and at the two previous Zoning Hearing Board meetings) eloquently delivered their message of “Just Say No” to a digital billboard at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Avenue in Paoli.

As the last resident to speak in opposition to the digital billboard last night my words were simple, “we are not a community divided”!  For eleven months, since Catalyst Outdoor Advertising first came to the township with their proposal to demolish the Clockworks building and install two large digital billboards and a reflecting pool, the community has stood in complete solidarity in its opposition. We do not want the digital billboard. Period.

As I said last night, I have lived here for many years and am engaged in community issues. There are always at least two sides to any of these issues, with the ultimate outcome producing winners and losers. Not so on the digital billboard, we are not divided; there is only one side.  Since August 2018, I have spoken to many people on this topic and have yet to find a resident who supports the idea of digital billboard in the middle of Paoli or who thinks it’s a good idea.

As Catalyst Outdoor Advertising attorney John Snyder and the township attorney Tony Verwey had both rested their cases at the July 25 meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board, the special 6 PM meeting last night was dedicated to residents’ comments on the proposed digital billboard. And speak they did, a steady stream of residents speaking out against the proposed billboard, just as other residents had done at the two previous Zoning Hearing Board meetings.  Many residents spoke at these three meetings and not one voice of support for the proposed billboard.  An important community issue, it was however sad to note that not a single township supervisor attended the meeting last night.

So where do we go from here?  After much discussion between the Zoning Hearing Board members, its solicitor and attorneys from the township and Catalyst Outdoor Advertising, a timeline for legal responses from both sides was established. Much of this discussion was difficult to follow but at the end, I asked two questions for clarification; (1) when would the residents who sought ‘party status’ know if it was granted and (2) when would the Zoning Hearing Board make their final determination.

There will be a special meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday, October 24 (presumably at 7 PM but not announced). At that meeting, the public will learn which residents receive party status and we will know the decision of the Zoning Hearing Board.

As I said last night to the members of the Zoning Hearing Board, the final decision rests with them– the township heard the public and denied the application for the digital billboard and it’s now up to them to uphold and support.  The public has spoken … this is not a community divided!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

BAN the Digital Billboard – Last Opportunity to Voice Your Opposition on Thursday, July 25, 6 PM: Public Comment at Zoning Hearing Board Meeting!

To members of our community – On Thursday, July 25 at 6 PM at the Tredyffrin Township municipal building, we have one last opportunity to make our voices heard regarding the proposed digital billboard at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Avenue in Paoli.

Catalyst Outdoor Advertising first appeared at a Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors meeting in August 2018 with their proposal to demolish the Clockworks Building and install two large 20 ft. digital billboards with a reflecting pool as a “welcome” to our 300-year old township. For many reasons during the last eleven months, the public has remained committed in their opposition.

The starting point for the digital billboard project was Catalyst’s submission of two applications to the township in December 2018 – (1) a demolition permit application for the Clockworks building and (2) an application to digitize the existing small stationary sign.  To the credit of our elected officials and township staff, the public’s opposition was heard and both applications were denied

Undeterred by the denial of their applications, in early 2019, Catalyst appealed the township’s decision on the digital billboard application to the township Zoning Hearing Board. The ZHB heard three hours of testimony on May 30, primarily from the Catalyst attorney. The legal proceeding was continued to July 9 for another lengthy evening of argument from the township attorney in front of the ZHB.

With Catalyst and the township attorneys resting their cases – it’s now up to us, the public! The last Zoning Hearing Board meeting is dedicated to public comment on the digital billboard application. This is it folks, our voices will be the last words heard by the Zoning Hearing Board

Far from dividing, the digital billboard issue has united the community in its opposition.  I am proud of our residents — they have put lawn signs up, shared information, done their own digital billboard research, attended and spoken out at meetings.  We have one more opportunity to deliver our message of opposition on Thursday, July 25, 6 PM and we need standing-room only!

PLEASE SHARE THIS POST with Friends, neighbors, family – the end is in sight and we need to deliver our FINAL voice of Opposition!!

          Your Voice Counts and the Community Matters!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Apply Now — Vacancy on Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, District 1 (East) and Region 3 Vacancy Filled on T/E School Board

A vacancy on Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors was announced at its meeting this week. The vacated position of Township Supervisor in District 1 (East) was held by long-serving supervisor Paul Olson, who recently sold his home and moved from the township.

A Republican, Olson was first elected as a Tredyffrin supervisor in 1976 and has served 43 years, losing only one election.  Committed to serving the community, Paul was involved with many organizations, including the Red Cross, Tredyffrin Library, Surrey Services and the Carr School in Mt. Pleasant, to name a few.  On a personal note, the ongoing support of Paul (and his wife Andrea) to historic preservation was much appreciated by myself and the other members of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust Board of Directors. As an elected official, he truly understood the importance of our local history and its preservation!

The Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors will make an interim appointment to fill the District 1 (East) seat. Persons interested in being considered for the appointment must be residents of District 1 (East) and voters of the E1, E2, E3, E4, E5 or M2 voting precincts. The Board of Supervisors will accept letters of interest (with resumes) through Friday, July 26 addressed to Tredyffrin Township, c/o Murph Wysocki, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors at Tredyffrin@tredyffrin.org.

The Personnel Committee of the Board of Supervisors (3 supervisors) will interview the candidates in a public meeting on Monday, August 5 at 7 PM at the township building. The Personnel Committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors and the Board will vote on the appointment at its next meeting, on Monday, August 19.

It will be curious to see what happens with this supervisor appointment – will the Board of Supervisors, which currently holds a Democrat majority (4-2) honor the long-held Republican seat and appoint a Republican candidate? Or would the Board stick to the party line and appoint a ‘D’ to fill the vacancy?

The District 1 (East) seat is on the November ballot, making the vacancy an interim appointment. Although Julie Gosse (D) and Raffi Terzian (R) are the endorsed candidates for the seat in the November election, all residents of District (1) and registered voters (E1, E2, E3, E4, E5 or M2 precincts) are eligible to apply for the interim appointment.

Perhaps not wanting to appear partisan, the Board of Supervisors could appoint an ‘Independent’ registered candidate and make history – the township has never had an ‘I’ as a member of the Board of Supervisors. Of course, that assumes a registered Independent in District 1 (East) applies for the position.  Over the last few years there have been many new people moving in to the township — applying for the interim supervisor position would be a great way to get involved in the community!

On the same night as the Board of Supervisors officially announced its vacancy on the Board, the T/E School District Board interviewed and appointed to fill its Region 3 vacancy – if you recall, last month Heather Ward (D) from Easttown resigned from the school board after serving 18 months of the 4 year term, stating that she would be taking a new job and moving out of state.

Ray Clarke attended the July 15 school board meeting and offers his comments on the interview and selection process and notes from the regular meeting.  Although the school board agreed at its June meeting to correct the $1.2 million accounting error, it is noted that a month later the issue remains open.  As has been stated repeatedly, there is a process with the PA Department of Education to make the necessary correction so the question from the public, remains WHY hasn’t it been done? The District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell was missing from the meeting – certainly not working on fixing the District’s accounting problem, guess it summer vacation for him. Remember folks, McDonnell received a new 5-year contract (with a raise!) starting July 1.

School Board Meeting Comments from Ray Clarke –

 The TESD Board of Directors held special meetings on Monday; first to interview candidates to replace Heather Ward and second an official Board meeting to select one of them.  Six Easttown residents applied and all presented themselves well, having relevant (but different) experiences and skills, with a good general understanding of the issues confronting TE and the role of the Board.  In the formal Board meeting, three of the candidates were nominated and in the first round of voting Mary Garrett Itin was selected in a party line 5-2 vote (Tina Whitlow was out of the country). She has a social work and child mental health background and spoke of favoring a fact-based, objective and transparent approach. Kate Murphy and Ed Sweeney nominated applicants with legal and financial backgrounds who I thought might have been very well equipped to hold the Administration to account, but they were the sole supporters of their nominees.

The need for that oversight was starkly demonstrated in response to public comment during the remainder of the board meeting.  Many different tacks were taken in an attempt to ascertain any information about actions taken in response to the Board vote to correct the Annual Financial Report filings with the state.  All approaches elicited the same response: we’re working on it (in some unspecified manner) and you’ll find out more in the next scheduled Board meeting on August 26th.

Both aspects of the meeting then led to a round-about discussion of the ways to include qualified and motivated community members (such as the Board applicants) more directly in Committee deliberations.  As a specific example, involved parents continued to advocate for their participation in the direction of the reading curriculum and spoke of insights from a recent academic conference. Ed Sweeney moved to include the general question of Committee make up as part of the strategic planning process, but in the end it was agreed (Kyle Boyer excepting) to consider the issue in the first Policy Committee meeting of the new academic year (perhaps a quicker forum).  There are different approaches (eg voting/non-voting) and pros and cons to this, and it is a question well worthy of discussion.

Notably, at the end, the Solicitor reported that an Executive Session was held last week to discuss collective bargaining.  The teacher contract is up for renewal at the end of the coming school year.  In the new normal of budget deficits and cost pressures the usual issues of process transparency and compensation/program trade-offs may be more contentious than usual.

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Mt. Pleasant’s 13th Annual Community Barbecue – Saturday, July 20, 12 PM – 5 PM — All Welcome to Attend!

What a great way to spend a hot summer Saturday — the village of Mt. Pleasant in Tredyffrin Township is having its 13th Annual Community Barbecue tomorrow, July 20, 12 PM – 5 PM at Mazie B. Hall Park.  All are welcome to attend — proceeds will support the ‘free’ after school tutoring program, held at the historic Carr School in Mt. Pleasant during the school year. Plan to stop by and show your support for this wonderful community event!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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