A Life Lesson that Good Guys Can Still Make Mistakes . . .

An article appeared in the December 14 edition of the Daily Local, ‘Chief suspended after son crashes police car’ .  According to the article, Tredyffrin’s Chief of Police Andy Chambers was suspended for 4 days as a result of allowing his 16-yr old son to drive a township police car and was subsequently involved in an accident with the vehicle on November 23.

First off, let me say that I like and respect Andy Chambers – he’s one of the ‘good guys’ — someone who supports the residents of Tredyffrin Township and cares about this community.  Was this simply one of those dumb lapses of judgement that as parents we sometimes have?  You know one of those times when something seemed like a good idea at the time but in hindsight, we realize it wasn’t too smart.

The story as reported in the paper explains that an  Emergency Vehicle Operator Course (EVOC) training was held in Bridgeport,and Chamber’s son (with a learner’s permit) was allowed to drive a Tredyffrin Township police cruiser on the training course.  In driving the car on the course, the kid somehow had an accident with the police car which caused enough damage that the car had to be towed. The accident also slightly injured a trainer who was in the car with Chamber’s son.

There is an upcoming supervisors meeting on Monday, December 19.  Will the supervisors inform the township residents of the situation and of Chamber’s 4-day suspension?  It’s important that the facts surrounding the matter are fully understood.  Otherwise, the rumor mill will churn out its own version of the story unless the supervisors present the timeline of events and the facts.

Although Chambers paid for the towing and repairs to the township vehicle, there remain questions surrounding the incident.  Assuming that the Daily Local is correct, it is unclear when the Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors were notified of the incident as no police report was made at the time of the accident.  Did the supervisors only learn of the accident from the Daily Local reporting?

Having read the article in the Daily Local, John Petersen wrote the following email to Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors and copied myself as well as the writer of the Daily Local article Jennifer Carboni and Susan Greenspon, editor of the Main Line Media News.  Assuming that the information is correct in the newspaper account, John makes some very interesting legal and liability points concerning  this incident.  John also states that he likes Chief Chambers and like me, considers him one of the ‘good guys’.

I am disappointed in Andy Chamber’s actions but at the same time I feel sorry for him — we’ve all had those momentary lapses of judgment. This incident just proves that even the good guys can make mistakes.  

 

 To: Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors
Subject: Cover up???

Clearly, WAY more to this story. If this reporting is accurate, then it appears clear that the BOS (as a body) – didn’t know about this until the letters were emailed by the DL. That does not negate the possibility that one or more supervisors knew what happened. What is interesting is the citation to the Motor Vehicle Code. It appears clear that there was an affirmative duty to report the accident. That may be something that Risa Ferman may have to deal with. I have but one question in this whole thing – “When did Andy tell you guys about this?”

Based on Donahue’s interesting word choice that Andy “admitted” what happened, that would lead one to conclude that he [Andy] was confronted with the information. The lack of a police report supports that conclusion. If that is the case, then that is a fireable offense.

As the old saying goes, it’s never the underlying issue, it’s the cover up that gets you. Let’s remember, this was township property. Who in the world would permit a non-township employee, let alone a 16-year-old pre-licensed driver to drive a police cruiser – regardless of whether it was on a closed course. As Howard Baker in 1973 during the Watergate Hearings asked [slightly paraphrased] “What did they know…and when did they know it?” That is the question – when did Andy tell you guys on the BOS? Again, if he didn’t tell you until the DL made you guys [as a board] aware, then that is most definitely a fireable offense. On the other hand, if the board knew back on 11/23-24, then why wait so long to suspend him.

The other disturbing aspect of this, if true, is that this was driven by un-named members of the TTPD. The timing of the letters is interesting. The first one was the Friday before the BOS meeting of 12/5. Clearly, nothing happened – which prompted another letter on 12/8. It’s all rather peculiar, and admittedly, speculation on my part..

Finally… I like Andy. He’s a good guy. And yes – he as given loyal service to the Tredyffrin Citizens over these many years. I supported his succession to chief in 2008. However, those in leadership have to live to a higher standard – a point I’ve made clear to all of you in the past vis-a-vis St. David’s, fire funding, etc. If this was all duly reported, then I agree with the sanctions as levied.

However, the timing and information contained in the aforementioned news article, if accurate, indicates that the events were not duly reported – and that transgression is far worse than the substantive issue. And let’s also remember that Andy allowing his son to operate a township vehicle put the township in harm’s way. The township was opened to liability – and it is far from certain that the terms and conditions set forth in the policy (the township is self insured) would have covered the liability. What if somebody was run over, permanently injured or worse, killed?

I fully expect the BOS to brief the public on what happened. This is where it counts to be fully transparent. And – this is why we need a properly functioning press so that matters like this get the spotlight they require.

Many thanks to the Daily Local for their reporting. I trust the reporting is accurate. And if so, I trust the BOS to do the right thing.

Regards,

John V. Petersen
Former Member, Tredyffrin BOS

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15 Comments

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  1. If this reporting is true and the letters were indeed “written on behalf of “many officers within the Tredyffrin Township Police Department””, then the TTPD has a real leadership problem that I’m not sure can be fixed by reimbursement and a four day suspension.

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  2. I like Chief Chambers but Patty this is a hard one to candy coat. You are right that we all make mistakes but if the article is true and the anonymous letters came from the Chief’s own police department, I dont see how he recovers from this mistake. Whats he do to regain respect.

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  3. I assume there were many people taking this emergency driving course that was sponsored by Montgomery County. Why would the Board or Supt.Chambers think that this would go away without getting out to the public? It is not a confidential issue when it involves our tax money and township owned equipment being misused.

    How appropriate there is a question of how this was handled for Robert Lamina’s last meeting on the Board. What a way to end 2011 in Tredyffin and taxes are getting raised too! It would appear there was no intention for the Board to be transparent on this issue or to levee any type of discipline until they were notified in a ‘shady manner’ that the press was being notified. That is sad statement of how personnel matters are handled.

    The Supt. deserves to keep his job and be measured by his career in total and not by one lapse in judgment that thankfully did not result in someone being killed or seriosuly injured. The Board should of handled this a lot better and demonstrated the gold standard we hear about. Pattye who is on the HR committee???????

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    For 2011, the Personnel Committee is sueprvisors Bob Lamina, Michele Kichline and Phil Donahue. I think John DiBuonaventuro is the liaison to the police department.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Isn’t this the same group negotiating the Police contract? Now, there’s the rub.

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  4. Petersen is right.

    “What if somebody was run over, permanently injured or worse, killed?”

    TRANSPARENCY in our government is sorely needed – as taxpayers we have a right to know exactly what happened. A crime was committed by the police chief using township property. This isn’t about whether Chambers is a good guy or a bad guy. Unless this is a complete fabrication and/or distortion of the facts by the Daily Local, then as a Tredyffrin taxpayer, I expect the BOS to be honest about this matter.

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  5. It must be the time of the year, it seems like every December there is some kind of sensationalism in Tredyffrin. 2009 was the BAWG report and the St. Davids offer, last year was the fire-funding and the cardboard check moment and now in 2011 we have the township police chief letting his kid drive a police cruiser, has an accident and the BOS playing cover up. Jeez

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  6. Superintendent Chambers is a well respected man and someone that I know personally to have incredible character and integrity. Lets not make more out of this then it is by taking the word of someone who wrote an anonymous letter and making a leap to leadership issues or lack of respect by his subordinates. I know of neither.
    “Why”? Is where we should start. Chambers took care of the damage and really….no one was injured. How bad do you think he and his son felt when this happened? Sometimes the incident creates sufficient punishment in itself. That being said I think we all can bet nothing like this will ever happen again. Now lets get to “why”.
    Why would someone write an anonymous letter about something so petty? Was it to report criminal behavior? No…Was it to report corruption? No… Was it to protect the public in some way? Again No.
    So the question is “Why”? what is the reason someone would anonymously go out of their way to hurt a family this close to Christmas?
    Who ever did this is someone who obviously has a personnel issue with Superintendent Chambers and was trying to cost him his job. This was a cowardly effort to exact personnel revenge on a good man, nothing more.
    We should be more interested with the character and motive’s of someone that could do this. If it is someone on the force we should all be concerned as being, sneaky and cowardly and willing to attack your boss in such a way are not the quality’s of someone that should be patrolling our streets.
    As I said, lets not make this more than it is, which is pretty transparent.
    One more point: The BOS acted on the issue after they found out. What minute or hour of the day that happened is irrelevant, they acted in accordance with their responsibilities…no cover up….no conspiracy.
    Sorry to disappoint :)
    Merry Christmas

    Giovanni D’Amato

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  7. I don’t believe handling personnel matters privately is quite the same as a “cover up.” I’m happy to cede that decision to the BOS — and I’m sure Chambers is pro-BOS in the negotiations, which is why his union employees may be coming after him too.

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  8. I disagree with the poster who answered “is this criminal behavior” with a “no.” Of course its criminal behavior to allow an unlicensed driver to use township property in this manner. Whether Chambers is nice, a good guy, or a leader is irrelevant.I’m sure if my son even attempted to sit in a police criuser he’d be arrested, They are not toys for the amusement of children, but costly public property. It should be independently investigated and if deemed criminal, he should be relieved of duty and put through the justice system like any other private citizen who risks a catastrophe and injures others.

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    anon Reply:

    Amazed,
    I could not agree more! Why isn’t the police chief held to at least the same standard as a regular citizen (some might suggest that a person in his position should be held to a higher standard!) I am quite surprised that the attitude of some is that this is not big deal. What more do you want, the supervisors gave him 4 days suspension and lets just all move on. Wow. This is a big deal!! And you are correct it is irrelevant whether he is a good guy or not.

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  9. It is not ILLEGAL for a permitted driver to drive a vehicle with a licensed driver over the age of 18. As long as it was a class C vehicle, which it was unless it was a tractor-trailer police vehicle, it is within the law.
    It is also not ILLEGAL to drive a vehicle owned by the township.

    That being said, is it a bad idea?? Absolutely. Does it violate internal policy?? Maybe, I have never seen it.

    The next thing to look at is personal injury. To what extent was ther injury to the trainer? Sounds to me, from the article, that this was not something that required registered medical attention.

    So it seems to me that the truest flaw to this mess is simply a failure of communication. Clearly, it was a witnessed event, so to estimate that everyone covered this up is likely not the case. It would seem to me that BOS are ultimately where the communication stopped. But, important to note is that HR matters are typically not made public until a resolution is made. At that point, any discipline is reported and any policy adjustments that are made to prevent future problems (unless such rule exists and is reinforced) are released.

    Beyond a chuckle, and a shrug of the shoulders about this incident, I am only seeing the conspiracy/cover-up to a point here. As much as I would love to see some of the BOS embarrassed, it’s unlikely as they typically feel above everyone anyway.

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    Amazed Reply:

    Can’t wait to drive a police cruiser–if just for the thrill of it–since its not illegal and if someone is not injured to the extent of needing “registered” (whatever that is) medical attention, all its worth is a chuckle and a quick sweep under the rug. Where do we sign up to take a cruiser for a joy ride? If i injury someone, I hope the township pays! After all, I’m actually a taxpayer!

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  10. It’s an interesting theory that a union member of the TT police department may have ratted out Chief Chambers because of disagreement over the upcoming union contract – with the chief not a union member and possibly more sympathetic to BOS budget concerns.

    But whether or not that is behind the “leaks” to local newspapers, the issue is whether or not a law was broken, or a township policy violated that requires termination. It seems that neither is the case.

    In my view, the Board had to weigh Chief Chambers’ decades of valued service to our township against a lapse in judgment that thankfully, resulted in no serious injury or cost to the township.

    As someone who has been critical of some past BOS decisions, I have to say I think they made the right call in this case. A week of suspension without pay is a serious consequence, one that will forever be a part of the Chief’s record. He paid all the repair costs, and he will have to live with the disappointment and disapproval of many in the community.

    But on balance, the totality of the Chief’s service far outweighs this singular lapse in judgment. I am confident this kind of mistake will not be repeated while Andy Chambers heads Tredyffrin’s police force.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Very well said Kate. I can only hope your perspective resonates with people — because it seems there is so much ugliness in this world, too many people want to see someone suffer. Perhaps given the mentality nowadays, we should consider a return to pillory and stocks — where we could all witness the humiliation. In colonial days, jail was where people were held for trial — punishments were public.
    Thanks to Pattye for airing this fully. Knowing Chief Chambers, I’m certain this is already a lesson learned

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