Tredyffrin’s Solicitor Vince Donohue claims that government does not seek to suppress public comment … Really?

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires all public agencies to take all official actions and conduct all deliberations leading up to official actions at public meetings.  According to 65 Pa.C.S.A. § 708(a); Sunshine Act, Section 8(a), there are certain discussions that can take place in an executive session where the public is excluded. At the onset of every Board of Supervisors meeting, Michelle Kichline, in her capacity as chair, makes a statement that the Board met prior to the meeting in executive session to discuss legal and personnel matters.  Under the provisions of the PA Sunshine Act, those township matters pertaining to personnel or legal matters are not discussed publicly   In fact, if during the ‘New Matters – Citizens’  section of the Board of Supervisors meeting, a resident asks a question that falls into the legal or personnel category, either a Board member of the township solicitor quickly points out that they cannot respond to the question.  Over years of attending supervisors meeting, I can attest that the solicitor does not permit the supervisors to respond to citizen questions that fall into personnel or legal areas.

Understanding the provisions of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, it was surprising to read that Tredyffrin Township’s solicitor Vince Donohue had a public response on a legal matter in Main Line Media News article, ”Community Matters blogger Pattye Benson calls for Tredyffrin Township to adopt policy regarding the use of its website” written by Richard Llgenfritz.

If you recall Llgenfritz wrote the story, “Tredyffrin zoning hearing board member not guilty after police are a no-show at her trial in late August.  His article, in addition to TE Patch, Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily Local articles, blog posts on Chester County Ramblings and telephone and email inquiries from residents, were the reasons that I conducted my mini-research investigation.

As part of my research on the police matter, I spoke with Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors chair Michelle Kichline, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo and District Judge Tom Tartaglio.  For the results of my research and corresponding comments in post, “Community Matters closes the chapter on police investigation but Tredyffrin supervisor opens a new one”, click here.

Because of the newspaper articles, blog posts and related public comments on the police situation, Tredyffrin Township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro decided to write and post a personal letter dated September 5, 2012 on the township website, using township resources and township letterhead.  Although the use of government resources by an elected official is surprising, it was the fact that the other six supervisors, the township manager and the township solicitor sanctioned the behavior of DiBuonaventuro that underscored the importance for a township website policy.

This past Friday, I posted the letter from my attorney Samuel Stretton on Community Matters. Stretton’s letter was sent to the seven members of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors.  I learned in Llgenfritz MLMN article, that Stretton’s letter was forwarded to the township solicitor Vince Donohue.  No surprise as this was a legal matter and as the township solicitor, he clearly needed to be involved.  However, because this is a ‘legal matter’ (remember the PA Sunshine Act and that legal and personnel matters in the township are not publicly discussed but held for executive session discussion), I was amazed that Donohue discusses Stretton’s letter with Llgenfritz.  Gosh, I would think that Donohue should not be talking about sending a response to Stretton – isn’t this a legal matter?  And then to further throw out there that it would be up to me whether I make the letter public or not?  To my knowledge, Stretton has not received a letter and I certainly have not seen any letter from Donohue. (I will assume that Donohue’s response is ‘in the mail’).  So, I  am struggling to understand this – the supervisors are not permitted to discuss legal matters in public but it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss legal matters?  Shouldn’t the more appropriate response from Donohue to Llgenfritz have been, “… this is a legal matter, and I am not at liberty to discuss”.

However, Donohue does not stop there in his comments to the newspaper, he goes on to address some of the issues that others and I have raised – i.e. First Amendment rights.  According to Donohue,

“This township has no interest what so ever in suppressing anybody’s first amendment rights and in fact does not. All you need to do is take a look at our five six-hour public meetings that we’ve had in the last few years. All you need to do is look at the Trout Creek overlay ordinance process where we involved no fewer than 30 members of the public on working groups and commissions held six or seven public hearings even for those members of the community that didn’t like the outcome I think it’s hard to argue with the openness and the fact that the township encourages and invites public input. I think this township’s actions belie any claim that it seeks to suppress public comment positive or otherwise about township matters.”

All I can say is, wow.  Donohue approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter going on the township letterhead on the township website.  I suggest that he needs to go back and read it and then come up with a more convincing argument as to how his letter is not an attempt to silence those who dare to disagree.  DiBuonaventuro writes in his September 5 letter, “What is more important for community to realize from this example is the disturbing trend that has developed with most of the internet elements of legitimate newspapers and the tabloid formatted blogs like “Community Matters”.  Public discussion of important community matters is a ‘disturbing trend’ — whether public discussion is over the backyard fence, in the aisle of the Paoli Acme or on the Internet, it is our First Amendment right; open debate and commentary exists under the US Constitution.

In fact, before I contacted Sam Stretton, I sent DiBuonaventuro’s letter to several attorneys and journalists; individuals who do not live in the area and would not know any of the people involved.  Not one person responded that they thought the actions of our government in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter were OK.  In addition, I should add that many people used adjectives like ‘chilling’ in describing DiBuonaventuro’s attempt to suppress public discussion.

It is interesting that Donohue would point to the many meetings held over the Trout Creek ordinance (for the record, there were 7 public hearings), as somehow public comment at supervisors meetings was the same thing as DiBuonaventuro’s use of public resources, public letterhead and public website.  Certainly, there were many meetings over Trout Creek, but I wonder how many of the Glenhardie residents feel that their voices were actually heard during the process?  Donohue makes no mention of Trisha Larkin and her neighbors in the Daylesford neighborhood.  Like the Glenhardie residents, how many of the Daylesford folks think that their voices made a difference to the outcome.  The Daylesford neighbors, in addition to many residents throughout the township, were overwhelmingly opposed to the C-1 zoning change.  However, as we all saw, their voices did not matter.  Yet Donohue claims that the township “encourages and invites public input” … maybe that’s true if you happen to be developer Ed Morris or his attorney Denise Yarnoff, who now have the green light to build an assisted living facility on 1 acre on Lancaster Ave.

As a resident of Tredyffrin Township, this is all so very disheartening, including Donohue’s response to Main Line Media News.  I am amazed that it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss a legal matter of a private citizen with the newspaper — to talk about a township response that he has sent to my attorney, Sam Stretton, that I have not even seen.  Wow.

It’s like some of the rules in Tredyffrin Township only exist when they benefit our elected officials, not the citizens.

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  1. Wow is right Pattye. What a joke! Please don’t patronize us Vince Donohue with your nonsense. If our voices mattered, the entire process would have been different. As we’ve now learned, both the Trout Creek and C-1 votes were “baked” months (years??) before the public hearings occurred. To think otherwise at this point is absurd.

    It’s a shame that the Trout Creek folks and DNA members had to learn the hard way that politics/party lines talk and Citizen Input walks. Between these 2 groups, it’s hard to calculate the amount of time, energy, resources and $ dedicated to thinking our voices actually could make a difference.

    Looks like the only place we’ll have the final word is at the polls on Tuesday and again when these supervisors are up for re-election. Patience…

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  2. Pattye, I think you summed it up correctly when you said, “wow”. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that Andrea had 5 of the 7 supervisors tell her that they knew nothing of JD’s letter, but in the end, they choose do nothing about it. Do they think that if enough time passes we will all just forget about the letter on the website. As a taxpayer, I think it is appalling that our tax dollars paid for that letter. And now I guess our tax dollars are at work again as the township solicitor has discussions on legal matters with a newspaper reporter. I wonder how much billable time, that phone interview cost us. Of course, I guess as taxpayers we never see the monthly charges from Lamb McErlane, do we?

    I don’t always agree with John’s comments on CM but this time, I have to say he’s right on the mark. As practicing attorneys, what in the world are Kichline and Mayock thinking. If John is correct, the BOS (or at least the Kichline as chair) had to OK Vince Donohue’s discussion with the press. Why would you want the township solicitor talking to the press in regards to a citizen’s letter from her attorney to the BOS. This makes absolutely no sense; just continues to highlight the dysfunction of our government.

    People keep saying that change will only occur at the polls – I hope that next year when some of these supervisors are up for re-election, there are some candidates with independent thought. I dont care if you are all the same party, if you see something isnt right, stand up and do something about it. Read JDs letter that was on OUR website and then ask yourself is this the kind of government you want.

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  3. As a resident are we able to see the communication between Lamb McErlane and the Township or is there attorney/client privledge? Sure would be interesting to see that communication!

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    Township Reader Reply:

    The bills are public record. The correspondence is not. Attorney Client privilege.

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  4. Where nothing less than acts of overt intimidation which had the intended effect to discourage and suppress free speech……..

    John, you do this very thing half the time you post by name calling and mocking and ridiculing people who gather the courage to voice an opinion. We train others how to respond to us by the way we communicate with them.

    School administrators manipulate, control and train school board members “how things word around here” by grooming them and teaching them what to say and how to say it the moment they are elected, while acting subserviant and remaining in the backgraound.

    Just like school administrators, people control and manipulate people all the time…..especially in institutions like local government.

    It’s the publics responsibility to know their rights, to stand up and go to the polls and vote in the candidates who best represents their ideas, values, and interests.

    I suggest we all get to know the new township manager. Ask him questions. Let him know what your expectations are and remind him that he works to serve the public, not the solicitor or the police chief or himself. This is a great time to establish a new system of government in this township where the people are served, not the top administrators.

    And above all……….get out and vote. This is America after all and we’re very fortunate to have this right.

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    Kevin grewell Reply:

    Your comments regarding the school board are not only insulting, but also demonstrate profound ignorance.

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    not so new......post-er Reply:

    I remember you said you were a former school board member. I would love to know how it works. Would you please write about it.

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    flyersfan Reply:

    Kevin I agree with you. I have watched meetings on TV.. my kids think Im a geek but Im trying to demonstrate at least some civic duty… and this school board has some independent thinkers.. I don’t think they are governed by the administration. Sure there is respect but that shouldn’t be confused with acquiesence.

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    kevin Grewell Reply:

    Not so New,

    I see my response was sharp. I apologize for my tone. You did basically put puppet strings on my back, however. Let’s walk this back and take another look:

    The real problem with your commment was overgeneralization. It is udoubtedly true that in some cases, there have been, and are, administrators who try to influence board members, and attempt to control outcomes, and there have been and are some board members who are persuaded too often (perhaps too easily), but this is not my experience with T/E and I doubt very much that it is generally the case elsewhere.

    Just as often, more often in my experience, the board drives the administration, at least with respect to large issues (routine issues are another matter, the board often just defers to the administration on routine matters)

    Now having said that, administrators gather and evaluate and present lots of data and information to the board. The administration usually has a “recommended action” and since they are recommending the action (presumably because they think it is best for the district) they present the data in the light most favorable to support the recommended action. However, that is to be expected. Often board members will ask critical questions, suggest other avenues of approach to a problem, or by consensus of the board (or a board committee) may instruct the administration to go back and come up with another soultion, or come up with more information to answer concerns, and so on.

    After a lot of discussion (sometimes many months or even years worth) the issue is decided, sometimes the board goes along with the recommended action and sometimes not. It is fair to say that the board choses to adopt the administration’s recommended actions most of the time. But that is not a rubber stamp because of all of the back and forth and modifications along the way. The administrrators are professional educators who work at this full time, and they know a lot more about it than the average board member. But the board is there to provide a check and balance on behalf of the kids and the taxpayers – to make sure that the administration is acting within the best interests of the community. Boards come and go, change members over time, and members have individual strengths and weaknesses, and so the job of oversight is done with varying degrees of quality and success as the years go by.

    By the way, most of the detailed discussion goes on at committee meetings, not the regular monthy board meeting, which is why it looks more like a rubber stanp to the public who only attend or watch the monthly meeting. The decision is often unanimous but there may have been hours and hours of dicsussion at committee meetings (more than one – often an issue goes through two or more committees – for example policy, finance, and education before getting the the full board at the monthly business meeting)

    There are alos a lot of regulatory and legal contraints that control what the board is allowed to do, which can also make it look like the board is just going along with the administration – but sometimes that is because they are required by law to do things a certain way, and there is not a lot of point in discussing it.

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    not so new......post-er Reply:

    I could have thought that through more before posting. Unfortunately, I’ll probably do it again but will try hard not to.

    Thank-you for the very thorough and informative information.

    I’m going to think about it and get back to you at a later date.

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    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Flyers Fan,

    Thanks for your post. It made me remember seeing a couple of board members sniping at each other once. I liked it because I remember thinking the same thing………there might just be some independant thinkers in this group.

    I thought you said you owned a restaurant once. Are you a Dr. too?

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  5. A side note from what Pattye posted, where I quote her:

    “In fact, if during the ‘New Matters – Citizens’ section of the Board of Supervisors meeting, a resident asks a question that falls into the legal or personnel category, either a Board member of the township solicitor quickly points out that they cannot respond to the question.”

    There is nothing in the Sunshine Act that states the BOS can’t comment on issues that are exceptions to the Act that allow for closed-door executive session.

    For all exceptions listed that allow for executive session (personnel decisions, legal decisions, contract negotiations, etc.) the Act specifically states executive session MAY be held. This is a far cry from the absolute legal term of “shall” – where they would be required to hold executive session. Absolutely nothing in the Sunshine Act requires executive session for the general exceptions listed.

    So don”t let the BOS or the solicitor tell you or even imply they cannot speak to anything that is an exception to the Sunshine Act. They have CHOSEN not to.

    They have the choice to open everything up if they wanted to. They law does not provide that any exception to the Sunshine Act has to be held in executive session.

    This is important to understand as you observe what the BOS chooses to make public and what it does not (and you can note how the BOS works FOR the solicitor and never objects when the solicitor is supposed to work for citizens as well as the BOS) – as there is nothing under the law they cannot make public they discuss in executive session if they so choose to outside of obvious and basic things like protected medical history, SSN’s etc. Even then, they can choose to make executive session discussions public by redacting things that come up that involve privacy issues under federal and state law.

    For example, they can discipline a police office in secret in executive session if they so choose as it is a personnel exception, but there is nothing preventing them from making such discipline pubic if they wanted to – so don’t believe them if they say thy “cannot” make a personnel or similar decision public.

    They can if they wanted to, and it says a lot about a board (and how it interacts with the solicitor) in regards to what they make public and what they don’t.

    And another thing they won’t tell you that the courts have ruled – the township solicitor works first and foremost for the citizens of the township and is supposed to protect their interests, but in reality the board works for the solicitor who only seeks to protect the interests of the board and township staff when the solicitor should be looking out for citizens first and foremost – which would mean the solicitor should side with Pattye in this situation, but that’s not how it works in the never never land of government turned on its head to benefit itself and its own selfish interests.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Well, well, well — thank you politeia! I had no idea this was the way it was supposed to work. In regards to BOS meetings, the supervisors have always stood behind the ‘legal and personnel matters’ clause. I assumed that this was a governmental protection but if I understand you correctly, there’s nothing keeping the supervisors from discussing these matters in public, except their choice not to discuss it.

    And I have to say that I was really fascinated by your words, “the solicitor should be looking out for citizens first and and foremost – which would mean the solicitor should side with Pattye in this situation …” Obviously, that isn’t the way it works in Tredyffrin Township, as it was the solicitor who approved JD’s letter on government letterhead on the government website. Clearly, as the targeted citizen in the letter, Mr. Donohue did not care about my best interests in the matter when he approved the supervisor’s letter.

    All very interesting — others may have known this information but I certainly did not. Thank you for your comment.

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    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Just to amplify what politeia has said about executive sessions – the TESD school board could have kept silent regarding negotiations (union offers, board offers, etc) using the negotiations exception, but chose to discuss many aspects of negotiations in public.

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    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Keith,

    I wasn’t offended by Kevin’s statement that my comments demonstrated my profound ignorance because I thought maybe he was right and I may be ignorant here too but just know that I’m trying to understand.

    I don’t remember the TESD choosing to discuss many aspects of negotiations in public at all. I remember Pattye calling for transparency more than once and I remember not one school board member being in on the negotiations. But plenty of administrators were. And I don’t think one of them live in this district. How could they possibly have represented the best interests of the taxpayer when 1,( we pay their high salary and 2.) they don’t live here so they don’t have to pay the high salary of the teachers? The tax payer was not represented in those negotiations. It was stunning to me that the school board members set this up so casually and expected everyone to think it was as normal as they did.

    Something seems wrong to me about the administrators going back to school board members and “interpreting” their perception of how the meetings transpired. The school board members clearly trust the administrators implicitly and it bothers me that they lean so heavily on them. This gives the administrators a tremendous amount of power.

    I’m sorry if this offends anyone. I know Keith and Andrea were school board members and I’m curious to know if Reader was one as well. He was something important, I know. Had to have been. And John, how about you, were you a supervisor?

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    not so new......post-er Reply:

    I know Keith and Andrea were…… meant to say I know Kevin and Andrea were………

    As much as I HATE to admit it, and I LOATHE John’s childish gloating, he was right.

    I am not a political person. In the past, I haven’t given my opinion on much of anything but the world has changed and we need to change with it. We can’t keep doling out these high salaries and benefits, when the very people who are paying them are economically and financially suffering.

    Kevin grewell Reply:

    I think the board did about as well as they could with the contract. This time they faced very difficult circumstances and for the first time they elected to hire a professional negotiator to represent the district. This was no doubt a strategic decision. I can assure you that the board was intimately involved at every step of the negotiation. It is too easy for critics to second guess strategy after the fact. If the board elected to conduct the negotiation in person without a professional, I am sure that the same critics would now brand them as idiots for doing so in this current economic situation. Saying “John was right” without saying a word about the end result – the terms of the contract – means nothing. Specifically, what about the deal do you feel falls short? How much better do you think the board could have and should have done?

    Personally, I think this was a very difficult time for both sides, and I think the end product was probably a reasonable compromise given the circumstances. I am not so quick to second guess judgment calls regarding strategy. In any event, it is done now.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    I’m a current school director at Unionville Chadds Ford and have negotiated two teacher contracts, so I bring another perspective to the negotiations process. I’ll begin a third in January.
    .
    The TE Board chose to make much of the process public via their Success and Sustainability website section. We talked about it ad naseum on this blog. Unfortunately, the information has been removed from the TE website, but the Board could have kept all that information secret. For a lesson in secrecy, try to locate any details of Lower Merion’s negotiations since January and the tentative agreement that will be voted on this month.
    .
    You asked, “How could they [the administrators] possibly have represented the best interests of the taxpayer..?” First, understand that the first few months of PSEA-led negotiations are theater, produced and directed by the union to rally the troops and rattle the public. By PSEA-led, I mean negotiations led by a state supplied, professional union negotiator as opposed to negotiations led by local teachers. There is no need for Board members to be present since nothing is being negotiated. The administrators were not negotiating; they were there to communicate the Board’s position, answer questions and listen. Board members appear when the union is ready to negotiate. My guess is that the union privately signaled a willingness to negotiate and Board members appeared.

    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Kevin,

    The school board enlists the assistance of the administrators to negotiate contracts with the teachers union along with an outside consultant. This makes the administrators allies and partners of the school board. This is a direct conflict of interest. When it comes time for the school district to negotiate a contract with the administrators, what mechanics and procedures are in place for that? It seems to me it will be an awkward situation because all objectivity will be compromised and lost. How do the board members transition from the administrators being their negotiation partner to being their counter-party?

    The administrators have a vested interest in perpetuating these inflated salaries and gold standard health benefits. It is not in their best interest to take a hard line to set a precedent of roll backs and concessions when negotiating the teachers contract, because they don’t want to be subject to that in their own contracts.

    Administrator and teacher pay and benefits in TESD are more than twice the national average.

    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Keith,

    I’m curious as to what a school director is in TESD terms.

    I have no issue with the school board hiring a professional consultant. The consultant was well qualified to communicate the boards position, answer questions and listen.

    I am well aware of success and sustainability and not one line in the presentation addresses administration salaries and benefits.

    My guess is it’s very difficult for the board members to sit across from a teacher and work to get concessions and roll backs, especially since many of the board members have kids in the class rooms. Can you imagine how impossible it will be for them to try and get concessions from the the administrators, who they have made their allies in negotiating the teachers contract?

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    not so new,
    .
    In one post you said, “I don’t remember the TESD choosing to discuss many aspects of negotiations in public at all.” Then you said, ” I am well aware of success and sustainability ….” If you are well aware of the Success and Sustainability web information, why did you say TESD didn’t discuss many aspects of negotiation in public?

    You mention that “not one line in the presentation addresses administration salaries and benefits.” Of course it didn’t. Teacher compensation comprises about 50% of the budget; administrative compensation comprises about 4%. And the Board was negotiating the teacher contract; not the administrators’ agreement. Let’s not have undue angst about something that is 10x less. See Andrea’s comments below.
    .
    Have you ever been a manager? You’re making much to big a deal about a school director’s ability to fairly negotiate compensation for teachers and administrators.

    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Keith,

    didn’t discuss many aspects of negotiation in public……

    I meant during the actual negotiation process between the teachers on one side and the administrators and professional consultant and school board members on the other side.

    I appreciate that the school board presented Success and Sustainability which informed us about the dire financial situation facing our district.

    Because administrative compensation is overall less a percentage of the entire budget than teacher compensation does not mean it is not worth discussing. We have gone so far as to assess fees to families for participation in after school clubs and sports. Everything is on the table. It is true that administrative compensation is never discussed. I am grateful to you and Andrea for discussing it now.

    Kevin grewell Reply:

    Not so new –

    Below you said “this makes the administrators partners and allies of the school board. This is a direct conflict of interest.”

    Of course they are allies of the board – they work for the board!

    You know what? I go back to my original assessment of your comment – profound ignorance.

    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Kevin,

    Of course they are allies of the board………

    And this is the root of the issue. School board members sometimes become in reality functionaries of the administration and the longer they serve the more assimiliated they become into the established culture. They aren’t even aware they’ve lost their independance and believe they have a profound understanding of how eduacation works.

  6. My family and I moved into the township in July from Jersey. It was a job relocation but one that I sought, mainly for the school district. Now that we have settled in and the kids are in school (BTW, they love Hillside!) I have started following local news.

    When I tripped across that supervisor letter on the township website in September, I was shocked. People can say what they want about Jersey politics but Cherry Hill certainly never had anything close to this kind of abuse of by an elected official. What’s this guy thinking, rank hath its privilege. Get yourself elected to public office and then the public gets a front seat to your sordid private life. I dont care who you date, who you sleep with and I sure dont want to see it on the government website. And you used taxpayers dollars.

    The public is supposed to believe that just because there is no website policy, that makes what this joker did alright. Are you kidding??

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  7. I think WOW almost says it all.
    I will confirm what I have written here: 5 of 7 supervisors thanked me for my comments and said they needed to be made. 3 specifically told me that knew nothing about the letter, and 2 said something to that effect in that they would not have supported it. They did not specifically say it was news to them.

    As to the school board comments — Kevin — you answered well. What I can tell you from that side of the table — and I think Kevin will confirm for me — is that people elected to these positions are only as good at them as their background permits. I still remember my first meeting and how nervous I was with a microphone in front of me. But I am a reasonably quick thinker and I think the public never wondered what our agenda was. The administration has NOTHING to do with most of what is conducted by the board. In fact, they prep the board with information, but board members are free to comment and respond as they choose. The reason it often appears (and sometimes is true) that they hold back is because this world of television and 24/7 news coverage and blogs can turn a simple comment said casually can turn into a headline or a blog topic. That’s a double edged sword. I specifically left the TE board at the last meeting before they began to be televised. I was ready to “retire” for personal reasons, but I also want to always “face my accusers” — feedback from beyond the camera was not something I was eager to face.

    I spoke against the use of the website because I understand just how easy it would be for a single Supervisor or Board member to act as a lone wolf absent a policy governing it. We always made it very clear on the TE Board of School Directors that NO ONE had any authority. You were not any kind of representative unless you were part of a quorum. No decision mattered without 5 votes. And I am proud to say that I think we did most of our debating and fighting in public. This “united we stand” is crap. As a constituent, I want to hear independent exchanges. The BOS — as I said in an earlier post — don’t explain their leanings or their inclinations except as part of their specific vote from what I have observed. So even with the DNA discussion, people talked all evening and there was zero give and take with the supervisors….and then they voted and one at a time explained their thinking. HOW can I interact with my representative if they won’t even tip their hand before the vote is taken?

    SO Pattye — I don’t have the first clue what Donohue was attempting to achieve. As I said earlier, I thought once you sent a legal communication, we’d get the party line of “on the advice of counsel” response. I hope John is right in that they have lost that easy out … Michele Kichline was part of the school district solicitor’s office when I was on the school board, and I KNOW she has a better grasp of the use of the Sunshine law as it SHOULD be applied. This BOS seems to do all their debating and deciding in private — not in violation but obviously over the phone or lunch without a quorum — so these long meetings Mr. Donohue touts are nothing but a time to get feedback from the community which may or may not (and so far has not appeared to ) influence the outcome.

    John — as you know — I am about to be a former resident of Tredyffrin. My family moved here in 1954. Those were the days when everyone had a common goal — to grow the community responsibly. We were “all in” in those days — most homes had kids and there was rarely discussion of litigation. That was true 20 years ago too — when the economy was roaring and people were not worried about what was “fair.”

    Mr. DiBuon. may have done us all a favor, because maybe now people will ask questions of candidates. Will ask about their values and test their communication style. Will demand to see them in action in debates or other similar Q&A so that you won’t just get a “dedicated public servant” but someone who can digest information and respond to criticism helpfully. For all of us, he could have and should have put this to rest with an admission of poor judgment. The police could have had a better reason why the arrests were never even on the blotter in the newspaper. And all these “critical blogs” would not have had to spend so much energy talking amongst ourselves because answers would have been out there….not “in executive session.”

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  8. I am catching-up and had to read the letter Mr. Dibuonaventuro posted on the website. Everything needs a beginning and an end date and I find it strange he clarifies when his relationship ended but not when it began? Were either of them married? Who is hiding what?

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    politeia Reply:

    I’m not concerned about infidelity. That’s private whether it happened or not.

    Fact is, the former zoning board member JD was dating got a huge break on that DUI conviction where she had the kids in the car. The child endangerment charges were dropped and she got the same punishment as any first-time DUI offender with the state minimum for jail, fine and probation.

    I spoke with a friend who is a former public defender and he was very surprised by this. What a DA will almost always will do to plea down a child endangerment with kids in the car while driving drunk is not give the defendant the same punishment as a first-time offender with no kids in the car, but rather drop the child endangerment for a larger fine, longer probation or a few more days in jail than the minimum Ms. Suzy got. Ms. Suzy got the lowest possible punishment like a first time DUI offender without kids. I am told prosecutors take it very seriously when an adult drives drunk with kids in the car, but not in this case.

    So she certainly appears to have gotten preferential treatment back then on the DUI conviction and I am under the impression JD was dating her at the time and one has to wonder how and why she got preferential treatment for that DUI with child endangerment?

    IMO, this is why JD did not state when their relationship began.

    So it appears Ms. Suzy got preferential treatment twice. On the DUI and when the cops did not show for the hearing on the second drunk and disorderly issue she had.

    For the sake of the kids, I hope she is getting the help she obviously needs.

    By giving her preferential treatment, the township and the DA are only enabling and telling her it is OK to drink like she does as she will be cut a break.

    This is really disgraceful, and it is shameful the board is silent on JD trying to use intimidation tactics to brush this all under the rug and deflect with that demented letter he put on the township website with at least the approval of senior staff.

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  9. I see nothing here that would even come close to indicate a violation of anyones first amendment rights.

    Pattye – JD, and anyone on that board, regardless of political affiliation, have the right to speak their mind and respond to what you post here.

    just because you don’t like what they say and the fact that there are people in political positions, people you often rail against, doesn’t mean anyone is infringing on your rights. No where in that letter that JD wrote did I see or hear a call for shutting down this blog of silencing you. He responded with his opinion as to what has been posted here about him. It doesnt matter that it was on an official goverment letterhead – has president Obama never criticized right-wing blogs or media, like fox news? Should he not be allowed to speak his opinion. Just because someone decided to stand up for themselves against what you’ve said here doesn’t mean you’re being oppressed.

    You have the right to criticize them on this blog, and they have they right to answer the criticism with their own opinions. Thats how it works in this great country. In my opinion, you should stop whining and acting like such a hypocrite.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    WOW! So you are not troubled that taxpayer dollars were used by a supervisor on government letterhead and government website. I have supported DiBuonaventuro’s right to respond, just do it like everyone else — letter to the editor, etc. etc. Not at the expense of our taxpayer dollars and not somewhere we (the public) cannot respond. And remember it isn’t just me that he took issue with — it’s the newspapers also, including Main Line Media News. Again, he’s got freedom of speech, just should NOT have the right to use our tax dollars for personal rants on personal matters. As for shutting down my blog or silencing me — I really don’t think even JD has the power to pull that one off :)

    But since you seem to be such a ‘JD Supporter”, I would love for you to explain the relevance of my 2009 unsuccessful supervisor race that was contained in Mr. DiBuonaventuro’s “letter to the citizens” and how that factors into your support of his right to “speak his mind”. Even if you want to buy into the rest of his personal attack of the press, Community Matters, those who dare comment, etc. using government resources, government letterhead and government website to do it, I’d really like to hear your explanation of the relevance of my 2009 BOS race to the police situation or to DiBuonaventuro’s dating of Suzy Pratowski.

    As for “whining” — no, it’s me defending my rights as a citizen of Tredyffrin Township against the bully tactics of our local government.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Mark
    Sorry you don’t see it — but your failing to recognize the difference doesn’t make it untrue. The unrebutted use of a government website is far different than Barack Obama critizing his critics. Had Mr. DiB stood up at the meeting and responded to the criticism, that might have come closer. Or had he written to this blog or a letter to the editor, no problem. What he did, however, was put his verison of unrebuttable facts on township letterhead and did not in any way address any issue but his own damaged feelings. He had been part of an investigation into this process. He had answered, according to the Chief of Police, a “full page of questions” regarding his possible involvement in this episode. He had every opportunity on this blog or with the papers (after all, Vince Donohoe has now managed to give an interview to the papers — hopefully on his own time and not on the taxpayerTHE FACTS. Instead he chose a forum where he represented his position as being that of a full governing board (it was not), he used letterhead that would reflect a sanctioned memo, and he most certainly intended to intimidate anyone who would date to challenge him again. See — what you may not know (late to the party?) is that he is the Supervisor, along with Ms. Mayock, who championed the Daylesford project and publicly represented that the neighbors had no objections. He’s the Paoli supervisor, after all. But he was caught red-handed there — and never addressed that either. So he kind of used his release valve and exploded all over Ms. Benson — and did it in such a way as to guarantee no one could rebut him. He brought in the irrelevant fact about her being a former candidate, and then whined about how he works so hard and he doubted anyone else would put up with this. Hey JD — resign and you don’t have to put up with it either.
    So Mark — I suggest you read the oath that the BOS take when they are sworn in. There is no reference to keeping people in line. There is no reference to the right to publicly but with a shield torment someone, and there is certainly no accompanying right for the lame duck Township Manager (who got a cushy consulting deal without any public discussion) to get the Chief of Police on the phone to further attempt to have the last word. There is absolutely NO hypocrisy associated with Ms. Benson’s use of a blog unless she refuses to post something Mr. JDB sends her. Where there is smoke, there is often fire. Where this is this much attitude about a possible ethics violation, the protests are not commensurate with the alleged activities.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    TR, Thank you for this response. Well-said and much appreciated!

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    Kevin grewell Reply:

    I usually stay out of township issues and stick to school issues. However, I think Andrea hit the nail on the head. The use of the township website and letterhead was entirely inappropriate and should never have happened. Once done, it should have been handled with a retraction and apology.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Some have questioned my decision to engage an attorney. I waited 2 months for a retraction on the letter, an apology and a policy to prevent this situation from ever happening again — nothing.

    I am fairly certain that all the BOS members did not see or approve JD’s letter before he had it placed on the township website. But all the supervisors certainly knew about the letter on September 5th when it was on placed on the website — all 7 members of the BOS names are on the township letterhead, along with the name of former township manager Mimi Gleason and the solicitor.

    My question is WHY as a member of the BOS would you choose to remain silent on such an important issue. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is fine that supervisors have private discussions with citizens, as apparently some did with Andrea, but WHY NOT own those words publicly.

    “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” ― Albert Einstein

  10. Not so New ….

    The administrators do not have a negotiated contract with the district per se. It is a “meet and discuss” arrangement that is done every few years depending on the length of the previous term. Administrative Compensation Agreement. The Superintendent is not part of that agreement and has one of his own that runs 3-5 years by law. The business manager also has his own agreement, and the director of personnel often does.

    The contract with the administrators is more about benefits and working conditions etc. as each person is compensated based on job descriptions and market reports. Everyone doesn’t make the same amount based on tenure or education. Administrators get reviewed annually, and most are eligible at any time to return to the classroom on the teacher salary schedule.

    I am concerned that you think the administrative compensation is top heavy. What is leading you to that conclusion? You cannot look at overall compensation — you need to look at credentials, experience and market value. And realize that the teacher contract is the baseline. An administrator is in demand — and other districts are free to hire them. They do searches for these positions. There are 501 districts in PA and each of them has an administrative cabinet of some type. So they all need a superintendent, a businiess manager, principals at every building etc. And administrators work a full year contract, not a specific number of days and certainly not a specific number of hours in their contract. Go to meetings at night and there are union teachers, but many if not most administrators attend them.
    Not trying to make excuses — just that salaries really are market driven. Benefits are typically driven by the teacher contract. Should the board have let 3 admins sit at the table — I didn’t agree with it for various reasons, but having someone as a chief negotiator that played the ugly drama and then left — that was good. The board called the shots — that I can assure you.

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    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Andrea,

    Thank-you for your post. I got my information from a PA teachers salary website forwarded to me by many in the district. Principals make $128,000 to $153,000 Vice Principals make anywhere from $110,000 to $123,000. College professors don’t make anywhere near these salaries. The national average salary for an administrator is $76,000 a year.

    In this labor market jobs in education are not in demand. Other districts are in the exact same boat we are in. They are laying off, consolidating and yes rolling back salaries and increasing health care contributions. I’d like to know where an administrator would go to find a job comparable to the one they have here. A teacher or administrator could not enter the private sector and meet what they are currently making. Many jobs in the private sector held by people with advanced degrees and training pay less and require more hours than teaching jobs. All of these jobs come with less vacation time and less benefits. Many many parents in this district leave Monday morning and don’t see their families for days if not weeks at a time. They are overworked and have suffered pay cuts and benefit reductions and they don’t have the luxury of a union to protect them from losing their job. And many of them have.

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    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Not so new –

    During my time on the board there was a shortage of administrators and they were in demand. I think that is still the case today. One of the board’s concerns was how to keep good administrators from being recruited by other districts – so as not to jeopardize the district’s rating as one of the top school districts in the state. I personally attended two or three evening committee meetings per week – often not getting home until 10:00 PM or even later, and invariably the superintendent and usually several more administrators were there. They had started their day at 6:30 or 7:00 AM and were still there at 10 an average of three nights a week. The state requires lots of professional credentials and that is what drives the market cost of administrators. And if you check with the district, you may well find that they have made concessions. I do know that Dr. Waters has not taken a raise in several years since the economy tanked. Yes they are well compensated, but they are overall a very small part of the budget and there are market forces at work. There is an education market and it is influenced heavily by state regulations – you cannot compare it with the private sector (then again, to get a skilled executive to run a business of comparable size and complexity to a school district might cost you a lot more in salary than you think).

    As for teachers, they have a union, they can strike, they can’t be fired or laid off for economic reasons, and if a new contract is not agreed to they keep working under the old contract terms. Wow – does not sound like a realistic prospect of union busting to me. I say it again, the board did OK given all of the circumstances.

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    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Kevin,

    Not taken a raise in several years? That’s our measure?

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    My general impression of not-so-new is that s/he:
    .
    – is unaware of the legal and marketplace constraints that raise educational employee compensation
    – asks for and receives explanations of those constraints, but doesn’t listen
    – makes sweeping generalizations that don’t apply
    – is fixated on administrator compensation
    – is highly critical, but offers no solutions
    .
    I’m done wasting my time.

    not so new......post-er Reply:

    Kevin,

    Yes, I’m fixated on compensation and benefits. I think it’s a real problem. And yes, I am highly critical as well.

    We have to take a look at how we got where we are so I’m trying to understand how this bubble got constructed. I think I have figured it out and you were a great help in this process so you did not waste you time.

    The solution lies in the construct of the process. If the process is fundamentally flawed as it appears it probably is we could take measures to fix it.

    One solution would be to hire an outside consultant for the next negotiation, yet have no administrator representation. Encourage all school board members to participate as much as possible to work in direct partnership with the consultant.

    This would allow school board members to have less of an allegiance to administrators, become more independant, clearing up some of the perceived conflict of interest brought about by the administrations involvement in the process.

    I want to assure you that I have been listening to you and the information you have provided has been very valuable to me.

  11. Anyone can take a private sector job. There are requirements for being a public school administrator in PA that include certificates and experience. I cannot speak for the current compensation schedule relating to the market, but when you hire an administrator, they are typically “in demand” if you want them to be highly qualified. I encourage you to,read the Ad co,p plan for TE and other districts in this area. And keep in mind that you can look at the top teacher salary and most administrators can return to it and get lots of time off as well….so,for the 15-20% increment for the increased responsibility and many more hours of work, I want good people in that job who are credible and can evaluate teachers and keep up,with the incredible level of reporting required by the state. 50% of our budget is teacher compensation…and about 5% is supervisory and charged with curriculum review, teacher evaluation, and parent accountability, along with building management. keep,reading and learning. It’s never as simple as it seems…but no reason not to challenge and research it. Dome component of,the compensation is definitely designed to stabilize the staff and avoid turnover. Raises have several components, and I would not be giving them for several years if I was in charge as long as the differential is maintained vs. teacher contract.

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