1st Amendment Rights

Does a Private Citizen Have Civil Rights in Tredyffrin Township?

Following the public hearing and vote for the C-1 zoning change, the Board of Supervisors meeting reconvened the regular meeting.  Of note, the township Finance Director Tim Klarich was named acting township manager, township secretary and Municipal Authority secretary and  township Zoning Officer Matt Baumann was named Open Records Officer.  Yesterday marked Mimi Gleason’s last day as Township Manager however, she was approved for a consulting contract with the township (contents of agreement were not disclosed.)

The regular Board of Supervisor’s meeting ended with supervisor and citizen new matters.  Chairman Michelle Kichline read a statement from the Board of Supervisors concerning the use of the township website for John DiBuonaventuro’s letter to the citizens.  Although a personal attack on a private citizen, Kichline stood by the decision to post his letter on township letterhead on the website.  She did say that the board will look into developing a policy for the use of the website going forward.  As the private citizen who was the target of DiBuonaventuro’s venomous attack, Kichline and the Board of Supervisors response was far from satisfactory.

Following Kichline’s statement on the Suzy Prawtoski matter and the use of the township website for a supervisor’s personal letter, Andrea Felkins, a former School Board director and longtime resident, presented a lengthy statement in opposition.  Felkins was absolute in her conviction against  DiBuonaventuro’s use of the township website for his personal attack on me and of Community Matters.  She spoke of the school district’s strict policy and suggested strongly that a similar policy should be adopted by the township.  Felkins has been a regular commenter on Community Matters, especially for all school board related matters.  Her comments always thoughtful and engaging.  I would like to publically thank Adrea for her public support.

To view the Kichline statement and Felkins statement video, click here.

Last night posed a near impossible situation for me. A close friend has often remarked to me that I see people as I wish them to be, not as they are … that was never truer, than last night. The last couple of weeks have sadly left me wondering about people who I thought that I knew and who I thought that I could trust.  It has been particularly sad to realize and have to accept that there are those in positions to make a difference or create change in Tredyffrin, but choose ‘group think’ rather than independent thought.  As if life could not have been more challenging, something happened last Friday that will forever alter how I view the place that I call home.

To watch my BOS personal statement, click here.

Below is the transcript of my statement from the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting.

Pattye Benson
Personal Statement
September 17, 2012

Members of the Board of Supervisors and citizens of Tredyffrin Township – I had not intended to speak tonight, preferring to listen to other’s voices.  But something happened this past Friday, that has shaken me to my very core.  At approximately 9:40 AM on Friday, September 14, I received a joint phone call from township manager Mimi Gleason and Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo that has forever changed who I am.  In life’s journey, this is my watershed moment and a feeling that I will never forget.

Unable to shake how I was feeling, after 24 hours, I wrote the following email to Mimi Gleason and copied Michelle Kichline, chair of the Board of Supervisors.

Let me share that September 15 email with you.

Dear Ms. Gleason,

There are two reasons that I am writing this email (1) to state that as a citizen of Tredyffrin Township, I now feel threatened and harassed by our government and (2) to request that you never contact me again, unless it is with a written apology for your actions.

I have thought of little else since receiving your phone call yesterday, Friday, September 14.   As a township resident, to be blindsided with a conference call from the township manager and the police superintendent was more than a little intimidating; I have to wonder how often you have taken a similar approach with other citizens in this community. The telephone conversation left me wondering exactly what was the purpose of the call and why did you involve Tony Giaimo except as a witness or possibly to record the phone conversation.  Although there was no mention made of the call being recorded, Tony did state he was in his police vehicle, so am I to assume that the telephone conversation was recorded without my knowledge.

Between the historic house tour, the Paoli Blues Fest and personal health issues, I do not have the time or energy for your directives, missives or whatever else was the intention of your phone call or of your email dated September 7.  On September 7, I emailed you the following simple question:

“Who is responsible for Mr. DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the township website?  Was placing the letter on the website sanctioned by you, the township manager?”

The only response that my question required was a simple, yes or no, with the possible addition that the chair of the Board of Supervisors and the township solicitor had OK’d the letter for the township website.  However, no, you decided on a different response, one that was not required, not needed and not necessary.  Frankly, as a citizen and taxpayer in this township, your response was one that I believe you should never have sent. When I received your email, I made no response.

Your call yesterday revisited the opinion you stated in your September 7 email to me; again complaining that Community Matters contained misinformation and incorrect facts, specifically the assisted living project.  However, never once in the conversation did you cite specifics as to what was incorrect.  As a response to your complaints about the Suzy Pratowski matter, I stated that the Main Line Media News, TE Patch, Daily Local and the Philadelphia Inquirer had all written articles on the subject.  I further stated that there was at least a week after the news articles appeared for the police department, the township or the Board of Supervisors to make a statement before I wrote anything on Community Matters.  Residents were asking questions and no one seemed to be providing answers.

As a result of the situation, I did my own mini-investigation, speaking with District Attorney Tom Hogan, District Judge Tom Tartaglio, BOS Chair Michelle Kichline and Police Supt. Giaimo.  After a thorough analysis, I presented my own summary statement on Community Matters.   I clarified that John DiBuonaventuro was not the unidentified driver with Ms. Pratowski in the May 28 incident, as a photo in the newspapers may have implied.  In my summary, I stated that DiBuonaventuro was interviewed by the police and that the police were satisfied that he was not in any way involved with the two police officers not appearing for the August 21 court date.  I wrapped the summary up and tied a ribbon on it, stating that the two police officers missing the hearing was a human error, a mistake.  I also thanked those involved (Hogan, Tartaglio, Kichline and Giaimo) for their help and used the words that I was ‘closing the chapter’.  Little did I know, what was to happen … DiBuonaventuro’s letter, your involvement with the letter on the website, your September 7 email and most recently, your telephone call of September 14.

Feeling threatened by your phone call, I remarked at one point during the conversation that I should have an attorney on the call.  I stated to you and Giaimo that as a resident of this township, I have rights, and as a citizen of the United States, I have rights, including 1st Amendment rights.  I believe that our government does not have the right to harass and intimidate those citizens it serves to protect.  I am not an attorney but I cannot imagine that your actions of yesterday (or your email) would be viewed favorably by the courts. Further, I cannot imagine that you would have considered making a similar phone call to Main Line Media News, TE Patch or the Philadelphia Inquirer nor would you have dare taken this approach with an attorney who might understand the legal implications of your actions far better than me.

Supt. Giaimo asked what I would like to see happen going forward – my response was a denouncement from the Board of Supervisors for the letter going on the website and an apology from the township manager.  It should be noted that I quickly also stated that I did not expect either of those two things to happen.

It saddens me greatly that you were compelled to bring Tony into this matter.  He and I have enjoyed a good working relationship over the last several years, including the blues festival and the house tour. Was your motive to damage my relationship with him, or was it to record the conversation?  It is entirely unclear why you involved the police superintendent, except to further intimidate me.

In case you are not aware, your phone call was so upsetting, that I immediately called Michelle Kichline, chair of the Board of Supervisors to report the conversation.  You suggested that I was ‘mistaken’ when I suggested that Ms. Kichline had not seen Mr. DiBuonaventuro’s letter before it was posted on the website. For the record, Ms. Kichline again confirmed that she had not seen the actual letter before it went on the website; I guess you are the one who is mistaken.

In closing, your intimidating actions have contributed to my feeling harassed and threatened by some in our local government.  I ask that you not contact me again, unless it is with a written apology.  For the record, I believe that John Petersen is also owed an apology from you, for the words, “so-called legal expert has no expertise …”   contained in your Sept 7 email to me.

Sincerely,
Pattye Benson

This is the end of my email to Ms. Gleason but I have a few closing remarks.

The great irony is that today is this country’s Constitution Day.  Two hundred and twenty five years ago, on September 17, 1787, forty-two of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting. Only one item of business occupied the agenda that day, to sign the Constitution of the United States of America.  Our founding fathers fought and died for our freedom, and I am left wondering if what is going on in this township is what they would have intended.

In closing, I am but one person, but I believe that I represent a far greater community.

Can we question our government?

Do we dare to have an opinion?

I believe that ALL our voices matter.

Thank you.

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Community Matters Not Going Anywhere — ‘Our Collective Voices’ Matter!

Community Matters was down for about 4 hours yesterday, causing some regular readers to speculate that either I had voluntarily closed the site down or, that someone had  forced its closure.  For those prone to conspiracy theories, concerns heightened when it was discovered that the township’s website was also down.  I have no idea what caused the township website to go off-line but it is possible that the problem, was the same as for Community Matters.  Go Daddy, one of the largest Internet hosting firms, had major technical difficulties yesterday, which resulted in 5 million of their sites (including Community Matters) to go down.  An anonymous hacker is claiming responsibility for the service disruption.

So, for those who would wish otherwise, I remain stoic in my resolve … our ‘collective voices’ are important in this community.  Community ‘matters’ and our voices are part of this community.  In the last couple of days, I  have been in contact with two members of the Board of Supervisors in regards to (1) the use of the township website by a supervisor for personal messages and the policy (procedure) for such usage and (2) the communication I received from our township manager, which was posted on Community Matters.  My hope is that the Board of Supervisors will address my concerns, and those of many in the community, prior to their next meeting on Monday, September 17.  One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that what happened last week will not be forgotten.  The offensive letter may be off the township website, but its damage is not easily erased. At this point … I say, stay tuned.

Moving forward, I could not help but think about our own school district as a I watched the news yesterday and the striking teachers from Chicago’s 675 public schools.  As I understand it, Chicago teacher union leaders and district officials were not far apart in their negotiations on compensation.  But other issues – including potential changes to health care benefits and a new teacher evaluation system based partly on students’ standardized test scores, remain unresolved. Chicago teachers object to their jobs and performance being tied to students’ standardized test scores.

In T/E School District, on September 5, members of the school board and Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) reached a tentative agreement on the contract.  The existing contract expired on June 30.  The public will not see the agreement until both sides ratify the tentative agreement.  I am not sure why the delay, but it will be about 6 weeks until the school board votes on the tentative agreement at their October 22 school board meeting.  Presumably, at that point, the contents of the agreement will be released to the public.

The TESD Finance Committee held their first meeting of the 2012-13 school year last night. for 2012-13 year was held on Monday night. Thank you to Ray Clarke for attending and providing his notes to Community Matters.

First, a few miscellaneous items I jotted down:

  • We got an unbudgeted $330,000 refund from Blue Cross.  This flows from mysterious BC prior year accounting which has in other years resulted in a charge.  This is a nice non-recurring bonus (especially since we are now self-insured).
  • Federal revenues from the ACCESS program were also $300,000 more than budget.
  • The risk from new commercial assessment appeals remains, and a $1.4 million reduction is included in the budget
  • Residential appeals of about 150 parcels is at about the same rate as last year and we’ve lost $56,000 from about a quarter of these settled so far.  The reduction is less than it was last year, though.
  • The district is appealing 23 commercial assessments; the historical success rate has not been high (~10%, I think).
  • At this early stage, the administration sees no need to use the $5.15 million “budgetary reserve”.
  • Over the last couple of years we have actively managed bus routes to reduce the need by 5 buses (down to 105) – a saving of $250,000 a year.  This success makes me think that it would be nice to see a short table of the results of all the budget strategies.

The Financial Report did not include any impact of the tentative TEEA contract agreement.  I was told that this could not be done, since anything would be “speculation” until the Board votes on the contract.  Dr Waters said that releasing tentative contract details would be counter to “40 years of history”.  Dr Motel said that the Board has complete authority to enter into an agreement, regardless of what their constituents think.  There was no explanation of why the secrecy is in the interests of the district or of the taxpayers.

It strikes me that if 40 years of history was always the guide, then most CM readers would never have got the right to vote.  How is it that the beneficiaries of a contract have the ability to review and approve it, but the people paying for that contract do not?  Every other budget item gets months of public discussion.  We heard tonight a report of the revenues from advertising, which was debated ad nauseam for 2 years and has just now realized its first revenues of $760 (over two years).  Every year the $10,000 or $20,000 cost of PSBA membership is discussed in multiple meetings.  The TEEA contract represents one-third of total expenses for just salaries alone (and probably influences double that), yet we have no chance to give our representatives our opinion?

So that leaves us to speculate for ourselves.  My thought is that the back-end loading of the tentative deal busts the budget far beyond the maximum tax increase will allow, and leaves the post-election mess for the next school board generation to sort out

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1st Amendment Rights in Tredyffrin Township

“The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of government suppression of embarrassing information.”          ~ William Orville Douglas, US Supreme Court Justice

According to John DiBuonaventuro’s letter to the citizens, Community Matters posts are an “ongoing effort to discredit our government and its efforts to serve the citizens by creating and fostering an environment of conspiracy among its limited readership.”  I received many emails and phone calls in regards to the inappropriateness of the letter but more importantly, the inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars to post the letter on township letterhead on the township website.  The letter contains a personal attack on me, Community Matters and on those citizens who dare to have an opinion.  For some reason, DiBuonaventuro also feels compelled to mention my failed election in 2009 as a Board of Supervisors candidate … I guess that was contained in the letter, as a ‘just because’, he could … and he did.

I was hopeful that Michelle Kichline as the chair of the Board of Supervisors, the township solicitor Vince Donohue or the township manger Mimi Gleason would recognize the inappropriateness of DiBuronaventuro’s letter on our public website and that the letter would be removed quickly before any further damage was done to me or the other citizens of Tredyffrin Township.

I sent the following email this morning to Mimi Gleason, our township manager:

Mimi,

Who is responsible for Mr. DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the township website?  Was placing the letter on the website sanctioned by you, the township manager?

I await your response.

Pattye Benson

I was extremely surprised by her immediate response below.  Ms. Gleason states that she OK’d the letter on the website with approval from the chair of the Board of Supervisors, Michelle Kichline and township solicitor Vince Donohue.  Folks, as a short-timer whose last day as township manager is Monday, September 17, 2012, Gleason has decided to make her true feelings known about me, Community Matters and for all those who dare to express an opinion.  As sad as I was about the DiBuonaventuro letter, I wanted to believe in our government and the people we elected to serve.  Bob Byrne, editor of TE Patch received a similar response from Gleason to his inquiry about the township website and DiBuonaventuro’s letter.

If the Board of Supervisors had been more forthcoming about the situation when the story first broke in the Main Line Media News, the outcome of the situation would have been very different.  If the public had received any assurance from the Board of Supervisors that they were reviewing the internal investigation report of the Police Department, or if the public had known that the District Attorney’s office had reviewed the report, if, if, if, … no one said anything, there was no communication or explanation.  Were it not that I went from the District Attorney, to the District Judge and then to the Police Chief, we would still have questions and no answers.  The summary information I provided on Community Matters was not secret, the residents could have had, and should have had it.

So what is the bottom line?   Gleason’s email says to me that to hold our government and its elected officials accountable by the citizenry is not acceptable in Tredyffrin Township.    You read her response and be the judge.

Pattye,

I think it is interesting that you seek information from me now, but not before starting a storyline full of inaccuracies and innuendos that had the potential to harm people’s reputations.  Correcting falsehoods well after the fact does not undo the damage from your original posts.  You feed cynicism and assumptions of impropriety when there is absolutely no basis for it.

You have done the same thing with the assisted living facility.  So much of what you have written on that topic is factually incorrect.  Why don’t you make an effort to get accurate information before you write articles and leave impressions with your readers?   You have to know that your so-called legal expert has no expertise, and therefore I can only conclude that you share his agenda to make the Township and the Board of Supervisors look bad, without any regard for the truth or ethics.  That has been a disappointing conclusion to arrive at.

In answer to your question, it is unusual to post a statement from an individual Supervisor, but given the inaccurate and derogatory statements and innuendo publicly made about John DiBuonaventuro, I decided to approve the posting of the letter on the Township website.  In this case, he was the subject of baseless public speculation simply because he is a Tredyffrin Supervisor.  The circumstances justified the use of the website to publicly defend him, carrying with it the implicit endorsement of the Township to the accuracy of his statements.  The Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and the Township Solicitor agreed that it was appropriate for the letter to go on the website.

Mimi

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