Main Line Sububan Life’s take on BOS Meeting . . . “Tensions Mount in Tredyffrin”

Once again to clarify my position.  Although I was disappointed by the Board of Supervisors decision in May 2008 that would not permit the Trust from accepting the estimated $50,000 in-kind offer from Pitcairn Properties, the Trust’s  Board of Directors accepted their decision.  The reasoned decision by the supervisors was based on the fact that Pitcairn at that time was in land development negotiations with the township. (Albeit, I was not aware of their project).  During this time, Judy DiFilippo was a Trust board member and a sitting supervisor and the concern was that a perceived pay-to-play might exist if the Trust were permitted to accept Pitcairn’s offer.  This based on the fact that Judy was both a Trust board member and a supervisor.

I only offered Pitcairn as an example at the supervisors meeting to ask why the same pay-to-play perception would not exist with the solicitation of Comcast by supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson (understanding that Comcast is currently negotiating their 15-year franchise contract with the township).  As has been stated by others, I agree that the Pitcairn decision by the Board of Supervisors in 2008 was the correct decision, . . . I just wanted to understand why are the same rules were not applied in 2010 with the solicitation of companies doing business with the township (Comcast)?

Blair Meadowcroft attended the Board of Supervisors Meeting on Monday night and below is an excerpt of her article that deals with the Tredyffrin Township Supervisors Holiday Firefighters Fund Drive.  For the full article, click here.

   Tensions Mount in Tredyffrin

By Blair Meadowcroft

Tension mounted at the Monday-night Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors meeting after Pattye Benson, president of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, stepped up to the microphone during the public-comment part of the meeting. Her comments were brought up just after the end of the first quarter as well as the March 31 deadline for collection of the Tredyffrin Township Supervisors Holiday Firefighter Fund Drive.

Benson explained how after budget cuts were made to the Tredyffrin Township fire companies, three of the seven supervisors worked on fund-raising for the Firefighter Fund Drive, resulting in a check for $23,200 that was presented to the fire companies.

After waiting for the Fund Drive to be complete, Benson questioned the supervisors’ fund-raising, stating, “I voiced my concern about the solicitation by supervisors to companies that could be doing business with the township, and I cited a specific example from May 2008 and the Pitcairn Company.”

Benson went on to explain how in 2008 a sizable in-kind donation, a gift valued at as much at $50,000, had been offered to the Trust by a vice president for Pitcairn Properties. But the Trust later learned it could not accept the offer.

“The idea was that there could be a ‘pay to play’ perception because of a final review of the land-development project between the township and Pitcairn,” said Benson. “Warren Kampf was chair at the time and he was absolute that I could not accept this offer because this company was doing business with the township. I knew nothing about Pitcairn’s planning-commission review yet I could not accept the offer.”

That conflict of interest, as understood by Benson, is similar to the Firefighter Fund Drive in that supervisors were doing the fund-raising for the fire companies.

“The very same people who told me I couldn’t accept the offer from Pitcairn were out soliciting money,” said Benson. “The way I see it is the only difference between the Pitcairn/Trust situation and the fire-company solicitation is that one was an in-kind offer and the other was a monetary contribution; both could be perceived as benefiting the township.”

Throughout explaining the situations, similarities and her confusion, Benson made the point to explain that three of the current board members, Michelle Kichline, Evelyn Richter and Phil Donahue, were not on the board when the Fund Drive began. But she did want the other board members to explain why the Pitcairn and fire-company situations were handled differently.

“These are the same supervisors but different rules,” said Benson. “I would have liked to have been able to accept the $50,000 from Pitcairn like you were able to accept money for the fire companies. This is not about the money that was raised. It is about the process that they used to raise the money, the source of the donations and the encouragement donors may have felt in responding to the solicitation.”

In response, Kampf explained how at the time of the Pitcairn offer, township solicitor Thomas Hogan gave the advice that it not be accepted because serving Supervisor Judy DiFilippo was on the board of the Trust, making it a conflict of interest.

“The difference as I see it between the situations is that we are supervisors who are free as individuals and who are allowed to accept charitable donations,” said Kampf. “I do not surrender my rights as a private citizen. When I see a problem that I can help with, I will. We went out, asked for help and were able to raise close to $25,000. And people were free to refuse to donate. There were some who refused and that is fine; we wouldn’t hold that against them.”

The discussion continued to go back and forth between a select few of the board members, Benson and a few residents. While Benson stated she was “just trying to understand why the rules are different,” the board members responding asked what her motives were.

“For you to stand up here and insinuate that this was a bad thing makes me question your motivation behind bringing this up now,” said Chairman Bob Lamina. “The timing is just interesting. We are supervisors but we’re also individuals. We made some calls and exceeded our fund-raising goal. I’m disappointed in you, Pattye. This was a win-win for the fire companies that one individual here today tried to diminish.”

While the issue was not solved, the fund-raising and budgeting question shifted after Berwyn Fire Company Capt. Eamon Brazunas approached the microphone.

“On behalf of the three fire companies, the funds raised did cover most of the budget shortfall, but we still believe the cut was a mistake,” said Brazunas. “We are, however, happy that the cut will be restored in the 2011 budget.”

Supervisor John DiBuona-venturo went on to add that the fire companies’ expectation is that funding will start back at the 2009 levels. While Lamina and Kampf agreed that a funding solution needs to be found for the fire companies, and that the board is likely to restore the funding, it was stated that no public commitment has been made.

“We feel the amount of money we were able to raise shows that if we work together with the fire companies that we will be able to do great things,” said Lamina. “We are working to re-engage the fire-company task force and plan to meet in May to discuss funding as well as other task-force issues.”

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21 Comments

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  1. Thank you for the clarification of your position, Pattye. After watching your comments a couple of times on YouTube, my impression was you felt personally wronged by the Pitcairn decision – you even used “I” many times, rather than “we”, referring to the Historic Trust. I do think the BOS made the right decision in that case.

    Maybe I missed it, but I wasn’t aware that the BOS had committed to restore the 2010 cuts to the fire companies – good move.

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  2. So I’ll contradict just to play advocate: WHY with the offer fully disclosed and discussed, to a non-governmental entity, was the Pitcairn offer considered wrong because of the “appearance” of pay to play. Even with Judy D on both boards, once the potential “pay to play” conflict is disclosed and publicly discussed — Judy could have abstained at the very most and the donation could have been made. Pitcairn does or does not get their land development approvals — not tied to the decision.
    So — in this case, using that as the example and taking the majority opinion that Pitcairn was the right decision, the donations to every group that donated to the FD through the Supervisor solicitation who have any kind of business relationship with the township MUST be returned. Lamina’s refutation that this is all good is meaningless — because a $50K in-kind effort by Pitcairn would clearly have been good for that cause as well. HOW does Bob Lamina asking Comcast, Saul Ewing, Lamb McErlane (or whatever firm Mr. Hogan serves) not only SMACK of pay to play, it validates it. WHY is the judgment of the supervisors so dysfuncitonal? Why are the moral compasses not working? It is always going to be “because we said so” as the reason for about everything they do that is challenged by the public?
    OLK screwed up again……..and this time, because they want to be heroes for having done it, we let it pass? Please don’t let this happen. WK has signs all over this community — someone has to hold him up for the scrutiny this flawed decision represents.

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  3. I am troubled by the efforts here to distinguish between the Pitcairn and the Fire Funds. It’s a distinction with very little difference — except that the Pitcairn decision was about hypotheticals and appearances — denying the opportunity for a non-profit to benefit from a generous party who wanted to be helpful in the township. The appearance there of steppiing up to curry favor apparently was enough to disqualify the donation.
    Now we have the Tredyffrin supervisors soliciting donations from township businesses, several of whom do business with the township. There is no coercion there — but there certainly is a “pay to play” undertone — some law firms who do business, some cable company that is about to negotiate an agreement. Certainly they were free to turn down the request — in the same way the township would have been free to let Pitcairn do this third party work and disregarded that as they made their decision.
    Here’s the difference: did the companies that were solicitied feel obliged to donate? We all know that when Paul Olsen did his library fundraising, he felt free to point out the people who did not contribute when he ran his campaign. Freddy — it’s different if you talk to your neighbor because there is no expectation of a quid pro quo — no way to think your donation would be influencing him in a political/BOS decision.
    Donating to the Supervisor Solicitation was a polite decision — but the refusal to accept the parallels to the Pitcairn issue is not only naive — it’s obfuscation.

    We can all go along to get along, but at some point, we have to come to terms with the fact that this is a very corrupt world — our economy wouldn’t be in the tank if the folks on Wall Street and countless governments around the world weren’t so motivated by personal greed. Things like the HRC are in place to limit the exposure to temptation or corruption — the BOS had a business manager steal from them after all. Just because the intent was honorable does not mean the result is okay. The funds collected absolutely should be returned to the donors, who on their own — without accountability to the BOS solicitation — can choose to donate or not. The FD specifically said they do not list donors — which means they do not want a public burden on people to donate. After all — people donate to many charities to be on the “gold” list, to go to the Patron’s party, to have their name on a wall. There’s nothing wrong with that impulse either. But to be asked for money — to be solicited — by people who have the power to affect your business — that is the ethics violation. I don’t believe it was intentional — anymore than the casual observer would have to assume Pitcairn was only offering his help to advance his own cause — but IF the Pitcairn was so clear cut, then this is a no-brainer. How Pitcairn found out about the need for his services is a missing piece here — “pay to play” is a reality. If you want to do business, you join the Chamber of Commerce, you join the Paoli Business associations….all those things are to promote your business. It’s the fact, however, than when an elected official is associated with the request for the money — it’s all bad….regardless of the outcome.

    Is this really that complicated????

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    freddy Reply:

    its not complicated at all and you are right, the fire companies should return the money to the donors.

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    freddy Reply:

    the donations are not wrongful?
    what if a company, who had business dealings with the township (such as comcast), came forward and presented a cardboard (and real check) check to the fire companies at the township meeting? would the money be accepted then?

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    freddy Reply:

    i never implied that the fire companies were anything but innocent.

    so if a company gives money to fire companies for the purposes of gaining political favor from an elected official, it is ok.
    but if an elected official encourages the company to give, then the money is not allowed to be transferred.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    I don’t agree John — I think Sarah is right –the Supervisors should have to write the companies and apologize for the solicitation and offer to have their money returned. We all know that none of the companies will take the money back, but the remedy is to pillory the Supervisors into having to acknowledge the “inadvisability” of the solicitation. Hogan — who donated — should have to explain why Pitcairn was so clear cut and this is not….or was it Lamb then?

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  4. Freddy – so if it rains during a parade, the weatherman should be fired. That’s how your logic (or beligerance) works…
    HOW does Comcast giving money to the FD “gain political favor”….it’s only when the official asks for them to do it….but you know that..stop playing dumb

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    freddy Reply:

    anon –
    not playing dumb, just playing hypothetical. who is the weatherman in this situation? the FD? who is doing the firing? who is the weatherman in the pitcairn scenario?

    did you ever consider that a business might recognize a situation where a politician may be in a bind, and realize that if they helped the politician it may benefit in return? how is that situation recognized and dealt with? sarah poited out that evil, greedy corporations are lurking in every shadow, waiting to pounce on their next victim. i assume that comcast fits into that description, considering that the only reason they gave to the BOS fundraising effort was to influence the outcome of their contract, right?

    comcast giving to the FD, in this situation, would relieve the pressure from the anti-budget cut crowd because the FD funding is restored. the BOS officials would then recognize that comcast ‘helped them’ and consider that during the negotiation of their contract. is that so unrealistic of a scenario?

    you cant have it both ways and you know that… stop playing smart.

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    freddy Reply:

    $1000 is a significant amount to comcast…
    raising money for the FD is ‘evil’…
    that is some good stuff!
    next thing you know you will be comparing kampf to hitler… oh wait… been there done that! lol

    i wonder… if another supervisor contacted those same companies who gave to the holiday fund drive, and asked them NOT to give, would he be violating the home charter rule, as he would gain politically from the failure of the other board members to remedy the situation?

    they say that no good deed goes unpunished, i guess we will find out shortly.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Excuse me — to add to that — the township lawyer who ruled on Pitcairn was solicited and DONATED to the Fire Companies….HOW is that not clearly pay to play…just because no threat of terminating was made, doesn’t mean that the firm had the right (read: guts) to say no.
    Did anyone say who asked Shire for the money — or did they step in and offer?

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    Pattye Reply:

    Township Reader — It is fascinating to note that the cardboard check and the list of some of the contributors (inlcuding Lamb, McErlane, PC – the township’s law firm) was named by Warren Kampf at the December 21 meeting. At the very next BOS meeting on January 4, 2010 (Organizational Meeting for 1010) Lamb, McErlane, PC was voted on and confirmed by the BOS as the law firm for the township. And Lamina questions ‘my’ political timing (?) at the BOS meeting?

    Anon Reply:

    Freddy — it’s all about who initiated the donation. For instance — if Shire knew that the BOS was in trouble and stepped up, they would be currying favor — not an ethics violation — because they would be hoping it would help. For the Supervisors to actually ask for a donation changes the dynamic — because a business has to then decide if saying no will hurt them in the relationship. that’s why it’s called pay to play — you donate when asked to stay on their good side. If you donate on your own, without being asked, you are banking that it will affect you favorably, but that is your business decision. It’s a very fine line — but these 3 on the BOS KNOW that they clearly crossed it — and can play dumb all they want — but the HRC exists as an ethics boundary — and they crossed it. Remedy? I don’t care. I just want them to acknowledge that they are playing dumb instead of behaving as if they count on us being dumb.

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  5. i never implied that the fire companies were anything but innocent.

    so if a company gives money to fire companies for the purposes of gaining political favor from an elected official, it is ok.
    but if an elected official encourages the company to give, then the money is not allowed to be transferred.

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    RH Reply:

    The only play-to-play in the realm of the fire companies soliciting would be if Fire Company says it won’t respond to the donor’s 911 call unless they donate. This can not be so when a politician asks for money for the fire company, because then there IS a question of political gain. That is exactly why the HRC exists. To prevent THIS whole thing from happening.

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  6. As to JP’s 11:50 am statement/conclusion — that I agree with — that’s why I wonder why the Pitcairn decision was made at all. The motivation is moot as long as it is not solicited by the township — so why wasn’t Pitcairn’s offer okay?

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    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    John says, “The deal is, with the Pitcarin, there wasn’t anything nefarious going on. ” You state it as a fact – how do you know that, John? A $50,000 offer from an organization with a matter before the planning commission.

    And $1000 from Comcast is “shaking down”? How do you know that something nefarious is going on there?

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    Anon Reply:

    Mike
    Appearances don’t matter…which is why I am puzzled by the information about Pitcairn. If someone wants to attempt to curry favor — so what? The difference here is that these businesses were asked to donate — so under what circumstances could they have said no? As was said earlier, Paul Olsen changed the rules about donating when he disclosed people who had failed to respond positively to his solicitation for the library. He wasn’t an elected person then and presumbly had no power to wield– and look how he used the information. Wouldn’t you be hesitant to say not to him? Why would Comcast or any of the local law firms have even been contacted — they talked to people who do business with the township. I do not think it was intentional or nefarious — but it was wrong — and I want the Supervisors to stop ignoring or disregarding people who question it as an ethics violation.

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  7. John –
    I guess I am dense, but I still don’t see Pitcairn as having any negative outcome to the taxpayers or even by implication — having something in front of the planning commission and offering to step up and do something helpful — that’s not pay to play. That’s currying favor — with no anticipation or agreement that it would work. I think the Pitcairn decision was just another tool to slow down the barn project (and I wasn’t payinig attention so it’s just my sense) I know for a fact that some supervisors objected to the log barn from the beginning. It’s why the only lent the money to take the barn down — they were not invested at all in the outcome. So — as far as Pitcairn went, there was nothing to be gained for the township by the Trust accepting the favor — the township BOS simply had no interest in the effort succeeding…they didn’t want it on township land and were “encouraged” to allow it in Wilson because of the Tredyffrin 300 festivities and public appearances. It is Bull — there is NO WAY that decision makes sense even in hindsight, but accepting money from Saul Ewing, Comcast and Hogan’s firm VALIDATES that the solicitation was absolutely pay to play. Those folks are already playing — what — they would say not to a client??? or the people who negotiate their agreements. What if Comcast brings it up at negotiations….”we already gave you $1,000″ — and they will be right. They already did.

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  8. Back to some basics here. Why did the supervisors do this? Because they were backed up against a wall.
    What happens when you back someone up against the wall when the are being questioned… It’s like a child who took money from mom’s purse. Excuses, backtracking, fabricated stories.

    They should be utilizing tax dollars to fund the fire companies. Why? Because the fire companies service ALL the township. 24 hours a day, 356 days a week. Just like the police who have a massive budget in comparison.
    Parks = We all love parks, but not everyone uses them.
    Libraries = Very resourceful, but not everyone uses them.

    Look at the level of support Parks/Libraries receive in tax dollars per resident and then look at the Fire level. But don’t be confused by the bottom lines. If you look at the expense, there is State flow through funding in there ($600,000+) that isn’t your tax dollars.

    This happened because for once, residents noticed that something wasn’t right. Supervisors were in panic mode and made some horrible mistakes.

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