Lower Merion, Tredyffrin Townships Struggle With ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Manipulation . . . Where’s the Transparency?

Mother Nature caused the cancellation of tonight’s interim supervisor interviews.  Fortunately the Personnel Committee was able to reschedule the interviews for tomorrow night.  Although the interview process will only include 3 supervisors  (Kichline, Donahue, Lamina)  rather than all six supervisors, I am accepting that it is a step in the right direction.  I know each of the candidates, Eamon Brazunas, Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock, personally and the residents of Tredyffrin would be fortunate to have any one of them serve as interim supervisor.

Regardless of the candidate ultimately chosen, I do believe that we need to continue to encourage greater transparency from our elected officials. Similarly to Tredyffrin Township, Lower Merion Township is involved in the process of filling vacancies of elected officials.  In Lower Merion’s case, two Commissioners have resigned.  Residents have questioned the appointment process in Lower Merion; concerned by an orchestrated effort to manipulate the outcome behind the scenes. Many residents feel that the Commissioner replacements are predetermined — some suggest the replacement Commissioner is known before the vacancy is publicly announced!  Some in Tredyffrin have suggested that a similar situation may exist.

Audrey Romasco of Bryn Mawr offers her opinion in Main Line Times on Lower Merion’s appointment process . . . and Lower Merion officials who can stay within the law, but manage to disregard transparency and civic participation. 

Ms. Romasco’s letter ends with “In 2011, a year of municipal elections, it is time for citizens of Lower Merion to demand a level of transparency that both fulfills the law and fosters civic participation and to consider how well that demand is met when they enter the voting booth.”  Many readers of Community Matters would probably agree with Ms. Romasco.  If you don’t approve of the way things are done, make your voice heard through your vote.  As you read the letter below, replace Lower Merion Township and their Commissioner vacancy with Tredyffrin Township and our interim supervisor vacancy.

Transparency more than letter of the law
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
By Audrey W. Romasco, Bryn Mawr

Over the past four weeks the residents of Lower Merion have learned a very important lesson: it is possible to follow the letter of the law, enacted in the Sunshine Act, and still deprive the citizens of transparency.

I am speaking of the Machiavellian handling of the serial resignations of Commissioners Reed and Taylor. By Bruce Reed’s own account, he had been considering resigning for the past year. Mr. McGuire also stated that Reed approached him “two or three months” before his resignation. Yet Reed waited to publicly disclose his intention until just before the close of business on Dec. 23, the last day before two shortened holiday weeks.

In other words he timed his resignation to deliberately attract the least attention from the public and to minimize the possibility of developing interest from candidates other than Mr. McGuire whom he had chosen to fill the vacancy. This goal was furthered by the very compressed scheduling of the deadline for applications.

The First Class Township statutes in Pennsylvania state that the Board of Commissioners must fill a vacancy within 30 days of the vacancy occurring. In Mr. Reed’s case, the vacancy did not actually occur until the close of business on Jan. 19. The board thus had until Feb. 18 to name a replacement. Instead, hard on the heels of residents returning to non-holiday mode, applications were due by Jan. 6. This week Lower Merion experienced déjà vu. Commissioner Taylor announced that he was resigning as of Feb. 15. Again, though the Board of Commissioners by statute has until March 17 to fill the vacancy, it has instead rushed the process forward, anticipating interviews on Feb. 9, which would require applications to be submitted by Feb. 3, a mere 13 days after Taylor tendered his resignation. Taylor was cannier than Reed. He demurred when asked about his replacement, saying he had talked to several people. However, the foreshortened timetable can only lead one to believe that a predetermined successor has been identified.

All of the above is strictly legal. It even has precedent in Lower Merion politics. It is also bad government.

First, the voters of these two wards had an expectation when they went to the polls three years ago that their elected representatives would complete their terms barring health issues or relocation. Such was not the case with Messrs. Reed and Taylor. Rather than transparently announcing well in advance that they would not seek re-election, they merely decided that they wanted to “reprioritize” their lives: that they didn’t owe their constituents the last 10 months of their “contract” with their ward residents. This sheds an entirely different light on all the votes they cast in the last several months, a context that was completely hidden from the Lower Merion citizens.

Second, by grooming specified replacements well in advance of announcing their resignations, they have denied a level playing field to all applicants. Several commissioners noted that Mr. McGuire was more “up to speed”; small wonder when he had three months to prepare. And while the commissioners had time to privately interview the candidates for Ward 13 (indeed several Democratic commissioners had already committed their vote to Mr. McGuire before the application deadline), few constituents were afforded enough time to meet them, perhaps in a venue such as a civic-association interview.

Third, they have cunningly influenced the elections playing field. They have discouraged what otherwise might be a vigorous primary contest in May by investing one candidate with the advantages of incumbency.

Finally, and by no means least, they have once again done damage to the concept that civic participation is a virtue. Their premature resignations suggest they consider only their own self-interests, an all too common perception of elected officials. The truncated appointment process signals predetermined results. A commissioner purportedly telling a citizen not to waste their breath supporting Stuart Ebby chills all citizen comment.

The National Constitution Center’s 2010 Pennsylvania Civic Health Index shows that only 11.2 percent of Pennsylvanians contacted or visited a public official and only 8.8 percent attended a meeting where political issues were discussed. That ranks Pennsylvania 29th and 38th respectively among the 50 states. As appalling as these numbers are, it can hardly be surprising when some of our elected officials do everything in their power to discourage transparency and citizen participation.

In 2011, a year of municipal elections, it is time for citizens of Lower Merion to demand a level of transparency that both fulfills the law and fosters civic participation and to consider how well that demand is met when they enter the voting booth.

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23 Comments

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  1. Apparently so, at times.
    All levels of government must respect “the will of the people” No room for Czars, or Emporer’s. Representative government means they should through pains seek out the “will of the people” at all levels of the process.
    The good thing is whatever is done can always be un done.
    Ciao

    [Reply]

  2. Pattye said: “I know each of the candidates, Eamon Brazunas, Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock, personally and the residents of Tredyffrin would be fortunate to have any one of them serve as interim supervisor.”

    Thank you for saying that Pattye. Too many others seem eager to taint the process by suggesting that any choice other than the one they would make would be a farce. Nothing funny about it to me. I’m wondering why anyone would bother to step up….(though if spelling counts, the criticism has serious limitations — someone in your following, regardless of the alias, cannot spell)

    [Reply]

    Joey Bag a Donuts Reply:

    anon80

    If the process is fair then why does everyone already know who will be picked?
    Would you like to make a wager on the out come?

    Can you spell Budda Bing ! LOL

    [Reply]

    Kristen supporter Reply:

    Terrific. Kristen picks up John Petersen’s endorsement. Now she’s properly screwed.

    [Reply]

    Joey Bag a Donuts Reply:

    Bruti and the sea haggs ahgagagaga!! I love popeye :)
    This discussion is becoming a little cartoony. I may not be able to spell…but I can smell. And something stinks to the high heavens here.
    All actions have consequences, buckle up buccaroo’s.
    The poop’s about to hit the fan..Badda Bing!! LOL

    [Reply]

    Bill Shakespeare Reply:

    Jesters do oft prove prophets…..

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    give it a rest Reply:

    Did we see a resume for Mike H? I seriously challenge your annointing Kristen over Mike, much less your suggesting that Mike would only be chosen because of some political advancement. Flip a coin….or have a reason. The problem here is that you find no reason to be valid except your own. So I’ll take Pattye’s word for it since she says she knows all 3 candidates — they are all qualified and picking one over another does not need to be seen as some conspiratorial outcome like JP wants to pronounce it.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Although certainly not required, Mike Heaberg choose not to provide me with his bio/resume. Yes, I know all 3 candidates and they are all qualified. I attended tonight’s interview session and will provide a summary tomorrow.

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    flyersfan Reply:

    no crime to make a political appointment even if you think that appointment is not the best. prerogative of the majority. “they won”. (repubs). Lots of opinions here, no power For some that is frustrating.

    And yes, an endorsement from you can be perceived by some as the kiss of death. That is an opinion as you have opinions too.

    Do you disagree?

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    Kristen supporter Reply:

    “Terrific. Kristen picks up John Petersen’s endorsement. Now she’s properly screwed.”

    “What an incredibly stupid and moronic comment.”

    John, your “constituency”, if you have one, has never been able to deliver a political victory for you, let alone anyone you’ve ever endorsed. You were crushed by Jeremy Blackburn, suffered defeat to Paul Drucker, you had two of your favored candidates beaten by Warren Kampf (whom we all know you hate.)

    You want to help Kristen? Start singing the praises of Mike Heaberg. Or Eamon Brazunas. Anyone but her. Thank you.

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    Mr. Roboto Reply:

    Wow. . .another one of those rare Hell Freezes Over moments when John Petersen and I actually agree on something!!! Kristen Mayock is indeed the MOST QUALIFIED!

    That said, I don’t see anyone in this Comment Section mentioning Eamon Brazunas as a choice. I guess everyone is just comparing the two Republican candidates, because they are the only ones who have a chance at getting the nod from the Supervisors. However, Eamon has matured into a very viable candidate who will give the GOP a real run for their money in the general election.

    Eamon was far too young to win during his early attempts at Office, but he now has the experience and the community credentials to make an excellent Supervisor. Moreover, he has two close elections under his belt and this past campaign experience has provided him with valuable “lessons learned” that will make him a very effective opponent in the next election.

    If it comes down to a race for the two at large seats, and the three choices are Eamon, Kristen and Mike, I plan on voting for Eamon and Kristen. . .and that comes from a Republican Voter.

    [Reply]

  3. Mr. Peterson,
    You said that Kristen Mayock is the most qualified. Could you qualify that statement by explaining why?
    Because apparently there are those that unlike me (who can’t spell…. LOL) They can’t read or see the nose on their face for that matter.

    All along it was Bozzini behind Tutaglia….ohh hows that? Badda bing!! LOL
    Your up Tom :)

    [Reply]

    School Observer Reply:

    Your up Tom :)
    Your right….it’s too easy….someone on this board has never learned to spell your…..whatever name they use.

    [Reply]

  4. Our political expert in residence, who was once picked himself as an interim supervisor, says this:
    “As to the appointment, there is but one proper choice for the BOS…Kristin Mayock. If they pick Heaberg, it will not be due to merit.. it will be due to political preference. This is so because a straight up comparison is squarely in Kristin’s favor.

    Do you disagree?”

    I don’t know Kristen at all — and her resume seems solid and well rooted in Republican politics. She is clearly qualified. I do know Mike Heaberg on a casual basis through some community groups (he is on FLITE) and his attendance at meetings and his posting here. He did grow up in this community and attended school here. He has 3 kids – I think all but one is finished at Conestoga and are either in or finished college. He has a background in finance and has run a successful investment advisory firm (maybe brokerage?) He is not highly partisan from what others tell me, and I know that John P. doesn’t like him. He is a very calm and reasoned person, and to “advance him” as John P claims is happening is probably a good idea, because we need people to encourage reasonable and educated citizens to participate.
    So — despite John thinking his reasoning is good (and his attack on someone who suggested his endorsement is a liability), I believe that the credentials of all the candidates are that they are qualified. Kristen is heavily Republican in her resume — so I can only presume that John P believes she is more qualified because he really dislikes Mike H…..and that must be personal.
    Personally, I hope the supervisors don’t take any bait and make a reasoned choice. I don’t know what their judgment will be, but I believe we are fortunate to have qualified candidates stepping up. I’m just embarrassed that the decision, which is almost random, has been scrutinized to this extent, looking for some motive and finding Godfather references to a pretty low key decision (3 months?)

    [Reply]

    Joey Bag a Donuts Reply:

    “which is almost random”
    Your kidding ? Right ?
    yeah, Moe green was a random hit. Who you kidding…Bruti and the sea hags defending th wrong choice. One made of personal reasons…enough BS on this.
    Remember, in November there will be three Supervisors elected. Kristen Mayock will be one of them. Lucca Bratzi will set the odds:)
    The questions is why would “Capo di Pinnochese” try to give what’s perceived as a head start to one over another? Its not business, its personal.
    Anyone have a horse? Badda Bing!!
    Ciao

    [Reply]

    give it a rest Reply:

    “Really…your embarrassed??? Maybe we should’nt have a choice? Maybe, it should all be done behind close doors, without discussion and debate…and we just take what we are given.”

    We dont’ have a choice John. Whatever happens in the public, we don’t have a choice. No discussion or debate is required and is not likely to have any bearing whatsoever.

    [Reply]

  5. Joey/John — your is spelled you’re…..
    Isn’t the point that the interim appointment does not automatically give a candidate “head start”…aren’t you an example of that? Did you win after serving your interim post? I think whoever gets this appointment is stuck with the obligation of being a deciding vote….though with all Rs, don’t know why we see two sides. These are not candidates yet– they are applicants. This is not an endorsement. And if you are right and someone approached Mike H about it, perhaps it was to give some flexibility to whether or not they appointed someone who they thought wanted to run… John B was the only person who said he wouldn’t run — doesn’t mean the others said they would (since we haven’t heard from Mike H, I’m wondering if you even know his intentions? Did they ask at the interviews?) It is almost random — flip a coin and we’ll all be fine.
    Your transparency about the Paoli TS project — and opposing MH because he’s on record questioning it — that’s at the root of your apoplexy.

    [Reply]

    Joey Bag a Donuts Reply:

    voice of confusion
    thanks for the grammer lesson, I often laye awake at night thinking about the proper way to spell “your” or is that you’re.. now I am confused.
    Lets see if you can find the mispelled words above? Just want to make sure you are still paying more attention to my spelling then the joke of a process that has been the subject of dicussion. Are you one of those people that has to arrange everything a certain way, too. Thanks for spell check, I’ll make sure to give you plenty to do. Got too go…Johnny Fontain is in town to see his Godfather. Badda Bing!! tutti mi amici…ciao

    [Reply]

  6. I have made this request before — do not ‘guess’ who you think people are that leave remarks. Just because you think that you know their identify — you are often wrong.

    Here’s a pet peeve of mine & one of the reasons that I may have to change the way that people comment. I have accepted that many people, for a variety of reasons, do not wish to have their identies known. This is fine and I support your right to be anonymous.

    However, please pick ‘only one’ anonymous avatar . . . there are indications that some that post on Community Matters have chosen to be ‘more than one’ avatar. This is confusing, has the potential to distrupt the flow of information and I do not want it to continue. Please choose one anonymous persona only.

    If it continues, I may have to ask you not to comment.

    [Reply]

    Joey Bag a Donuts Reply:

    Pattye,
    Your right and I am guilty as charged. I will not spend any more time on who someone is. Besides its more fun not knowing ;).
    Multiple avatars, I never thought of using more than one. So potentially we could be talking to several and they’re one…..wow multiple personalities Bat Man!!
    If this keeps up the Corleone’s will have to move all family business to Vegas!! Badda Bing!!
    Thanks for keeping things straight Pattye…ciao

    [Reply]

    Bill Shakespeare Reply:

    Oh no!! I understand, but

    The play’s the thing
    Wherein [we’ll] catch the conscience of the king

    [supervisor/godfather/school board/state representative/union/etc.]

    [Reply]

  7. A true king has no need of conscience, leaving him
    vulnerable to sympathy and his kingdom would fall. Reason and site are all he needs. Pretty deep Bill huh?…but not as deep as you. I gotta go make an offer :)
    ciao

    [Reply]

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