Tredyffrin Township Website Policy — Vote TONIGHT!

Although the agenda for tonight’s Board of Supervisors meeting does not include the policy for the use of the township website by supervisors — the policy will be presented and voted upon tonight by the supervisors.  In response to my inquiry to Michelle Kichline, I received an email from Vince Donohue, township solicitor, stating that the agenda will be revised to include a vote on the policy.

It was my understanding that the Sunshine Law required the township to notify the public at least 24 hrs. in advance of  a vote.  I asked this question of the solicitor and his response was,“The Board intends to adopt a policy by resolution, which does not require any advertisement. “

How much will the public’s opinion matter with regards to the township website — shouldn’t we have a copy of the resolution in advance to review?  For those that are just tuning in, the communication policy is a result of John DiBuonaventuro’s use of the township letterhead, township website and township resources for his September 5  letter to the citizens.

As a result of DiBuonaventuro’s letter and personal attack on me and Community Matters (in addition to traditional news sources, including Main Line Media News), my attorney, Sam Stretton, sent a letter to the members of the Board of Supervisors on October 25. Vince Donohue responded to Stretton on November 8 where he detailed the new township policy would include.

According to Donohue’s letter, the communications on the Township website would pertain to Township issues.  He also states that the it would be clear about the source of the communication, whether it was from the entire board, a subset of supervisors or an individual supervisor. Donohue writes, “ … The purpose of the policy is not, however, to restrict any Supervisor’s ability to communicate with Township residents on matters each deems appropriate.”   If this language is contained in the communication policy, it is problematic.  There is nothing to keep any supervisor from using the government website (or any other township social media tool, i.e. twitter, Facebook, etc.) as their own personal ‘bully pulpit’ whenever the mood strikes.

 What’s to keep a supervisor from labeling their communication to the citizen as ‘township business’ and then the website becomes theirs to use.  Who has the oversight on what constitutes ‘township business’?  Read DiBuonaventuro’s letter again — especially where he speaks of my 2009 supervisor race.  Yes, I ran for the Board of Supervisors in 2009, three years ago — what in the world constitutes that as ‘township business’ in 2012?  So … will this new ‘communication’ policy protect the rights of DiBuonaventuro (and the other 6 supervisors) to use the government website whenever feeling threatened by the local news media, Community Matters or the township citizens.  If an individual supervisor is permitted to the use of the government website for whatever he/she feels is township business, how about next year, when three of the supervisors are up for re-election — what keeps them from the use of the website as a campaign platform?  If you think the suggestion ridiculous, remember DiBuonaventuro used the government website a personal attack on a private citizen, including a thee-year old political campaign!

We learned in Richard Llgenfritz, Main Line Media article of November 8, Majority of Tredyffrin supervisors may not have approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter posted to website’, that several of DiBuonaventuro’s fellow supervisors had not seen nor approved his letter on the township website.  I have subsequently heard that at least a couple of the supervisors would not have approved the letter, had then seen it in advance.  So … will the communication policy of the township prohibit something similar in the future?  Or will the policy force supervisors to ‘act alone’ without needing the ‘team’ behind them.  From my vantage point, I hope that this communication policy contains strict guidelines and oversight or what’s the point?

15 Comments

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  1. what is the important item? Is it just a general policy on the use of the township website by superviors? What is the issue?

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Gary, I updated the post to include the background.

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  2. Sunshine Act

    Public Notice:
    “At a minimum, the notice must include the date, time and place of the meeting. The public notice is not
    required to contain a statement of the purpose of the meeting or a description of the business to be conducted
    at the meeting.”
    .
    http://www.agriculture.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_6_2_75292_10297_0_43/AgWebsite/Files/General/sunshine/Open_Meetings-Sunshine_Act_Overview.pdf

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    After reading Donohue’s response several times, I was more confused as to why something as important as this policy was not required to be on the agenda, http://tredyffrin.org/boards/bos/agenda.aspx Although I thought it was about the Sunshine Act, apparently one needs to look at the Home Rule Charter for clarification. As a former member of BOS and Zoning Hearing Board, I asked John Petersen his opinion — here’s his response. (For the record, Michelle Kichline, Sam Stretton and Vince Donohue were cc’d on the email.)

    “Again, I’m always accused of over-simplification. I’ll direct you to Tredyffrin Home Rule Charter – Section 211 Records and Reports – Paragraph C. My reading of that, which could be inaccurate, pretty much says that what is to be considered and voted on at a meeting shall be enumerated in an agenda that has to be posted no later than 8 hours before the next meeting.

    My review of: http://www.tredyffrin.org/boards/bos/agenda.aspx – shows that the item you are looking for is not enumerated in the agenda. In my opinion, given the time the meeting starts and the current time, there is a clear violation of the Home Rule Charter.

    Reading Vin’s explanation to you – causes me concern as it is completely at odds with the plain language of the Home Rule Charter and Administrative Code. Given that this issue was discussed before – makes it old business. It’s clearly not new business.

    As to the Sunshine Act – http://www.openrecordspa.org/sunshine.html – interestingly enough, specific matters regarding agenda requirements are not covered. Nevertheless, the clear legislative intent of the Sunshine Act is to both facilitate and protect public participation.
    Custom in Tredyffrin has always been to be inclusive as to Agenda items. In recent memory, the only overt/by design omission was when Paul Olson wanted to release St. David’s from it’s sidewalk obligations. There were other provisions in the HRC/Admin Code at play. Then, as perhaps here – the goal is to discourage/suppress public comment. Given the importance of the topic as well as the controversey surriounding this matter, one would think that extra care would be taken to make sure the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed.

    As a former member of the board as well as the ZHB – I’m more than a little offended here. Sadly, given events of the past 8 years, I’m not shocked at this sort of behavior of the manner in which it is attempted to be explained away.

    Pattye – one thing to remember – this BoS operates with ZERO rules of procedure. I called this out about 5 years ago. Chairman Kampf at the time promised the matter would be addressed and resolved. To date, the BoS has not adopted any sort of Parliamentary Procedure – such as Robert’s Rules of Order. We have seen cases where motions have been made, seconded – and then never voted upon.

    In summary, when you look at the plain language of the HRC/Admin code, coupled with Tredyffrin’s customary practice (excluding things like St. David’s which were proven to be illegal) – and you square that up with what you see here – in my opinion – setting aside the Sunshine Act for a moment, this is a clear violation of the rules. As to the Sunshine Act – it’s a closer question – but in my opinion – if nothing else – it’s a violation of the spirit of the HRC.

    It may very well be that one’s opinion is shaped by one’s pre-disposition to transparency.

    JVP

    ————————————————————————————————–

    One other thing…

    Consider this item in the agenda http://tredyffrin.org/boards/bos/agenda.aspx :

    **
    Adopt resolution approving the 2013 budget for the Tredyffrin Township Municipal Authority
    **

    Vin said: “The Board intends to adopt a policy by resolution, which does not require any advertisement.”

    Under Vin’s logic, the resolution to adopt the 2013 budget didn’t need to be on the Agenda. Nevertheless, it is listed – as it should be.

    Adopting a website policy of which the BoS intends to govern itself is absolutely “Township Business”. And per the HRC/Admin Code – township business that is to be dealt with at a meeting needs to be on an agenda.

    Now you have to ask yourself why one thing got included and another thing didn’t. We can take “scrivner error” and “mistake” off the plate because Vin told you this didn’t need to be advertised. It should be noted that “Advertised” is a term of art and that was not what you asked him. You asked him why the item was not included in the agenda. The meeting is what is advertised. This is not a public hearing – which has it’s own set of advertising requirements.

    I’m left with no other conclusion than given the controversey surrounding this matter, the agenda item being left off was a deliberate act of ommission.

    Simply put, they can’t start cherry-picking items they wish/not wish to include in an agenda. Again – the HRC/Admin Code makes it clear this item should have been included.

    I think that is all that has to be said on the matter.

    JVP

    [Reply]

  3. At the Feb. 8, 2010 BOS meeting (see the very beginning of Part VI of the YouTube video from that meeting), I asked whether, under the Home Rule Charter, matters that the Board knows it is going to address at a meeting are required to be on the agenda for that meeting. The Solicitor at the time said that the Board would not answer my question because doing so would invade the attorney-client privilege.

    I then asked whether, in the future, the Board would put matters that it knows it intends to discuss at a meeting on the agenda. Then-Supervisor Kampf, speaking on behalf of the Board, assured me that “for something like this [referring to St. David’s] we are going to make sure that happens.” So setting aside whether the Home Rule Charter required the Board to put the website policy on the agenda, the Board represented that it would do so. I would like the Board to keep its word.

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  4. I think some would say it was Duane Milne, not Paul Drucker…but who cares? Past certainly has not served as prelude to anything but obfuscation and whining.

    Here is hoping that the two parties pay close attention to the actions of this board and make some real effort to identify not just candidates, but contributors to this board for the future. Some are obviously in over their head, and yes — life used to be easier. Yes — blogs and citizen journalists are a PITA — but this is about our future, not our past. Bright people can drop the pretense of needing to get along and just go at it.

    Here’s the most likely scenario we need to be tuned to — good people are not likely to seek office. People like status quo just a little too much.

    Good luck.

    [Reply]

  5. Prior to this meeting a long time Tredyffrin resident and friend told me “the policy they pass will be specifically designed to cover for JD”. Ever hopeful me said, “No, they will design a policy so that what happened to Pattye can never occur again.”
    Having attended the meeting I now know that I gave the BOS way to much credit for intelligence. What really bothers me the most is that a township supervisor could slander a citizen from our Township website, and we citizens through our taxes would have to pay the cost of the legal defense and any fines.

    [Reply]

    Trisha Larkin Reply:

    We were slack-jawed last night over the “new policy”. How is it that NOBODY in that room last night could/would clearly define “Township Business”???? Vince Donohue says it will be defined moving forward on a case-by-case basis? Not one of the 7 Board Members could define what actual Township Business includes?

    Pattye, gotta hand it to you. You tried your level best to press for specifics and they gave you nada. It’s clear they’re going to do what THEY want to do . Period.

    The only thing we can do is VOTE THEM OUT! I truly hope Township Reader is wrong. Can we find “good people” to run for office? Let’s hope so! Seriously, can we get worse? Wait….don’t answer that.

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  6. Since John. Has become the fact checker and expert witness for this and many topics…and his “bunk” is such a helpful contribution, and he takes credit (used to)!for developing, training and even ghost writing for JDB, I’ll,say goodbye to CM. I am worn out from having him parse my comments and torment me. As someone who is a former supervisor, selected by the same TTGOP he demonizes, not elected by the public….I leave his opinions to the rest of you to continue to be educated by him.
    Why do I care if I’m moving. Such a strange question.

    [Reply]

    cp Reply:

    Township Reader – Your contribution to this blog will be missed. Only Pattye can control the postings. I, too, tire of those who feel the need to put their spin on each and every posting. Please do not think you are alone in your assessment. New ideas and healthy debate are refreshing. Nailing someone to the wall and dwelling on semantics is tiring.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    TR,
    I’ve enjoyed and learned from many of your posts. Please, reconsider your exit. Above all, realize some obnoxious participants of CM are on “ignore”.

    [Reply]

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

    TReader,

    Take a break, have some turkey and come back. I’ve learned everything from you. (and you know it) Don’t leave now.

    [Reply]

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

    Yes, that’s true, I do have a lot more to learn. That’s why I want Reader to come back. :)

    You could learn a lot from him too.

    Happy Thanksgiving John.

    [Reply]

  7. “Open Book Award for Transparency in Local Government” — love this award and its criteria!

    MALVERN, PA – Nov. 16, 2012 – The Suburban REALTORS® Alliance announced today that Lower Merion Township is the recipient of the organization’s first annual “Open Book Award for Transparency in Local Government.” The township was chosen from 238 municipalities in southeastern Pennsylvania for its efforts to provide residents and local businesses with detailed, up‐to‐date information about public meetings, proposed ordinances, and existing rules and regulations.

    “The Open Book Award recognizes the efforts of boroughs and townships in southeastern Pennsylvania to put the publics’ right‐to‐know at the forefront of their business and activities,” said Jamie Ridge, president/ceo of the Alliance. “Lower Merion Township’s willingness to provide easy and open access to critical public information is an excellent example for other area municipalities to emulate.”

    Among Lower Merion’s best practices are a robust municipal website with access to key documents, meeting minutes and agendas; a government access cable television channel that offers live coverage of meetings; and openly encouraging communication between staff, elected officials and residents and businesses in the township. “While residents of Lower Merion may not agree with every decision made by township officials, they are privileged to have open access to the process used to make those decisions,” said Ridge. “That is certainly not the case in all municipalities, some of which hold on too tightly to information that should be easily accessible to the tax‐paying public.”

    “We at Lower Merion Township are proud to receive this honor, and feel that openness and responsiveness to our citizens is very important in improving the knowledge and understanding of those we serve,” commented Doug Cleland, Lower Merion’s Township Manager. “We’re positive that because the SRA has initiated this award, transparency in local government will continue to represent a high standard for us all to strive to meet.”

    [Reply]

  8. in any organization or group, if there is a supressive individual he/she must be corrected or dismissed. Since only pattye can dismiss around here, I guess the meek shall inherit the blog. Chasing away people is not good for dialogue. But this is tiring. John will be talking to himself soon, and it is unfortunate because this IS a good place to learn about what is going on and what some are thinking.

    [Reply]

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