Anthony Giaimo

Improving Conditions in Tredyffrin Township — Power Returning to Many Households!

What’s the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – the same could be say about restoring power to Tredyffrin Township and its surrounding areas.  Downed power lines and toppled trees left many roads impassable and neighborhoods with dangerous conditions. Winter Storm Nika is PECO’s second worst in their history in terms of power loss, exceeded only by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  However, as the third day without power ends for many residents, there are improving conditions to report.

Friday evening, I received a phone call from Tredyffrin Township Police Supt. Giaimo offering some updates:

  • Tredyffrin Township now has a crew of 75 PECO trucks, each with 2 employees, dedicated to our township and focused on completing the restoration of all power to residents.
  • The repairs on the main sewer break at Rts 252 & 23 in Valley Forge National Historic Park are progressing and the township’s Public Works and Engineering Departments are moving quickly to resolve the problem.
  • Tredyffrin Township building is open as a warming and charging station.  Although the website states the building is open until midnight, the township building will be open through the night, Saturday and Sunday, if needed.  Coffee and tea is available.
  • Supt. Giaimo strongly urged residents to check on their elderly neighbors.  If you are without power and need a place to stay, the police have an updated list of available local hotels.  They are also arranging for transportation to West Chester shelters, either by buses or in some cases, the police are driving the residents. Residents are encouraged to utilize the resources available at the township building.
  • Much improvement has been made on the road closures with many re-opened today.

Supt. Giaimo assured me that many in the Police Department “have been working around the clock to keep people as safe as possible”.

I have been in contact with Township Manager Bill Martin.  Just as the police chief, the township manager is also working very long hours but wanted me to know that “the hard work is done by all the staff – public works, police and support staff. They work above and beyond anything I have seen in all my years of public service, they care so much about what they do and the residents.”

The hope is that most of Tredyffrin Township should have their power restored by Saturday night – although it may be Sunday for some of the outlining areas.

People are reporting repair crews have arrived from all over the US –Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts and even crews from Canada!  It was interesting to hear a PECO representative say that they usually don’t receive a high volume complaints in a power outage until about the 72 hour mark but that this time the complaints started at less than 24 hours into the outage.  However, unlike the August storm of Hurricane Sandy, residents are dealing with below-zero temperatures during Winter Storm Nika.

Although I think that PECO could have moved quicker to organize following the power outage and PennDOT did not do its best at handling snow and ice covered roads, I have the highest praise for our home team in Tredyffrin – Supt. Giaimo and the Police Department and Township Manager Bill Martin and his support staff, public works and engineering staff.  In addition, we thank the Berwyn Fire Company Chief Eamon Brazunas and his staff of volunteer fire fighters and Chief Ira Dutter and the volunteers of Paoli Fire Company.   Many of these folks are exhausted having worked long hours, and in many cases leaving their own families and houses with similar power outages to help us – the residents of Tredyffrin – and deserve our appreciation and gratitude!

School Safety … An ongoing priority for Tredyffrin Twp Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo

Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo did not need the Sandy Hook shootings to prioritize school safety.

However, if you attended, or watched the TESD special safety meeting, or the District’s Finance or regular school board meetings, you may have come away with the mistaken impression that the Tredyffrin Police Department is only peripherally involved in the school safety process.  Sure, T/E Superintendent Waters and Kevin Buraks, president of the school board spoke of the good working relationship with the police departments (Tredyffrin and Easttown).  Waters and Buraks rationalized the hiring of Andy Chambers as District’s safety consultant because (1) need to act quickly following Sandy Hook; (2) Chambers knew the District buildings and (3) he was a lot cheaper ($125/hr.) than previous safety consultants. At the last school board meeting, someone mentioned the District had previously spent $100K for a safety consultant post-Columbine.

Beyond the obvious transparent issues that accompanied the hiring of Chambers, I could not help but wonder how this safety consultant was going to work with current police staff, given the reasons behind his departure from Tredyffrin.  I also could not understand what Chambers was going ‘to do’ for the District that experienced Tredyffrin Police Supt. Anthony Giaimo and Easttown Police Chief David Obzud, and their respective departments. were not already doing.

For those like me, that may have been confused about ‘who knew what and when’ in regards to the school safety situation and Chambers hiring by the District, I clarified some of these points with Giaimo today.

Fact: Giaimo has 23+ years of experience with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.

Fact:  Neither Dr. Waters nor the school board consulted Giaimo before hiring Chambers.  Giaimo was told a couple of hours before the announcement at the District safety meeting.

Fact: The school ‘hardening’ suggestions that the District is implementing were the personal recommendations of Giaimo, including the notification panic buttons, buzzer system and the ballistic film on windows and doors.

Fact: Giaimo has been actively involved in developing a crisis plan with administrators of each school and doing building safety assessment on District schools (as well as private and nursery schools).  According to Giaimo, school safety has been an ongoing priority of his, not just post-Sandy Hook.

Fact: Waters and the District were fully aware of Giaimo’s school safety and crisis plan – prior to the hiring of Chambers.

Fact: There has not been a District school safety meeting between Giaimo and Chambers.

Fact: It is unclear how Chambers efforts as the District’s safety consultant will differ from efforts currently performed by Easttown and Tredyffrin Township Police Departments.

Fact: Representatives from the Police Department are on the District safety committee.

Fact: The Board of Supervisors has not authorized hiring of 2 additional police officers as recommended by ICMO consultants and approved in the 2013 township budget

School safety has been an ongoing priority for Giaimo and he has been very proactive in his approach since becoming Superintendent.  He has a good working relationship with Easttown Police Chief Ozbud and the two are committed to coordinating school safety response, regardless of which township the school is located.

I don’t want to ‘beat a dead horse’ over the hiring of Andy Chambers; I accept the Board approved his hiring. However, it remains unclear to me what additional safety information the District will receive as a result of Chambers’ hiring.  Without a ‘scope of work’, it just appears that Chambers could be performing a duplication of effort at the expense of the taxpayers. It is my understanding that the school district will include Giaimo and Ozbud in any school safety decisions based on Chambers’ recommendations.

Our police superintendent has the safety of our children as a continuing priority, not just because of Sandy Hook.  Regardless of the number of Tredyffrin Police Department officers, Giaimo remains committed to school district safety.  However, more important than ever, providing safety requires adequate police department staffing.  If you agree, I strongly suggest attending Mondays Board of Supervisors meeting. (Click here for agenda).  The Board of Supervisors has not authorized the two additional police officers recommended by the police department consultants, ICMA and approved in the 2013 township budget.

Defending First Amendment Rights in Tredyffrin Township

It has been 8+  weeks, since Tredyffrin Township Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro wrote and posted his September 5, 2012 letter to the citizens on the township website. (click here to read the letter). Over the last 2 months, I continue to receive phone calls, emails and have had many discussions with residents that are troubled and concerned about DiBuonaventuro’s letter and use of government letterhead, government website and government resources for his personal attack of traditional news sources as well a private citizen, who dare to question our government. Subsequent to September 5th, we have learned that DiBuonaventuro’s personal letter and use of government resources, was apparently sanctioned and approved by former township manager Mimi Gleason, township solicitor Vince Donahue and the other six members of the Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors.

At the September 17, 2012 Board of Supervisors meeting, I read a personal statement (click here for Community Matters post and links to BOS meeting and statement) which addressed DiBuonaventuro’s letter and subsequent email and joint phone call from the township manager and police chief on this topic.

When the framers of our Constitution insisted on Freedom of Speech rights, one of their aims was so that all Americans – no matter their social class or position in our society – could vigorously examine and criticize our government. These rights have throughout our history nurtured our democracy and made us a beacon to the whole world. However, as history has played out, the battle for these rights has proven at times to be hard-won rights that we have to continually fight for and renew.  First Amendment rights are a cornerstone to this nation’s government and citizens have a right to discuss issues that are of importance.  The freedom is speech is in place for all of us – including the citizens of Tredyffrin Township.  Further, freedom of speech includes ‘me’ as a citizen and Community Matters.

In 1996, Pennsylvania federal judge Stewart Dalzell, wrote his opinion in the ACLU v. Reno, the Internet – Freedom of Speech case, “As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from government intrusion. It also deserves a great deal of attention from civil liberties activists who are concerned about free speech, privacy, and universal access – because the larger the scale of a new medium, the greater the temptation to restrict it.”  As background, Dalzell, a 1969 graduate of Penn Law School, was recommended by Pennsylvania Senators Heinz and Spector and nominated by President George Bush to fill a judicial vacancy on the federal bench in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1990. He was confirmed by the Senate in 1991.

The last couple of months since DiBuonaventuro’s September 5 letter appeared on the township website have given me time to reflect.  Because all township supervisors, the former township manager and township solicitor supported DiBuonaventuro’s letter and use of the government letterhead and resources, I knew that I needed to take a stand for First Amendment rights in Tredyffrin Township.  If an elected official is permitted to use the public website whenever they disagree with a news story, what’s next for the citizens of Tredyffrin Township? Where will it stop?  What recourse do citizens have — we are not permitted the use of the township website to defend ourselves.  The end result … a chilling effect intended to silence all those who disagree.

To be clear, DiBuonaventuro is entitled to his own freedom of speech; he has every right to explain himself, defend, etc. He could write a letter to the editor, make a comment on Community Matters, etc. etc. — I simply do not think it is OK to use Government resources for a personal matter by an elected official.

As a result of the September 5, 2012 letter written by township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro, using the government letterhead, government website and government resources, I sought legal counsel and have retained the services of attorney Samuel Stretton.  The following letter from Stretton dated October 25, 2012 was mailed to each member of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors. To date, there has been no response.

October 25, 2012

Michelle H. Kichline, Chair
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

John P. DiBuonaventuro, Vice Chair
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Philip Donahue
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Michael C. Heaberg
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Kristen K. Mayock
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Paul W. Olson
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Evelyn Richter
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Dear Supervisors:

Please be advised I have been retained by Pattye Benson, in reference to a letter of September 5, 2012 written by Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro. This letter was posted on the Tredyffrin Township website.  This letter was done on the letterhead of the Board of Supervisors.  Attached and marked as Exhibit “A” is a copy of the September 5th letter.

This letter of Mr. DiBuonaventuro, in effect, used Government funds, Government letterhead, and a Government website to respond to a private blog on his personal issues. I believe it is entirely inappropriate to allow a Government official to use Government resources to respond to matters involving his personal conduct.  I understand there was and is no policy as to the use of the government website and the expenditure of government funds.

I am asking that this Board immediately adopt a policy so this sort of misconduct and abuse of the First Amendment will not occur again.  I am also asking that an apology be placed on the website. Further, I am asking that the letter be rejected by the Board as inappropriate to be placed on the township website.

Further, the letter is inaccurate. The blog “Community Matters” is written by Ms. Benson to raise important community issues. The blog at issue concerned the conduct of the Tredyffrin Township Police Department in not appearing at the two criminal hearings for a member of the Zoning Board. There were two different cases, and both were set for the same day.  Coincidentally, neither officer appeared on that day, resulting in the cases being discharged. The failure to appear by two officers was surprising since the Tredyffrin police officers are known to always appear at criminal hearings. Clearly, the failure to appear raised some questions.

The blog “Community Matters” also raised the question about one of the supervisors and his relationship with the Zoning Board member. These are valid issues of public discussion and concern.

The letter, which is dated September 5, 2012, from Supervisor DiBuonaventuro, is essentially a personal attack on Ms. Benson, supposedly defending himself. This type of personal letter has no place on the Board of Supervisors letterhead and no place on the township website.

What is particularly disturbing is the last paragraph on the first page where Mr. DiBuonaventuro, using Government resources, Government letterhead, and the Government website, criticizes legitimate discussions of public business. He calls this a “disturbing trend”. He utilized the Government website to bully “Community Matters” and others.

This conduct, using Government resources to respond to those who speak out or discuss Government issues is unacceptable and should be disavowed by the Government immediately. If Mr. DiBuonaventuro is not able to accept public criticism, he ought to resign as Supervisor. Those who choose to hold public office have my respect.  But as part of serving, one has to understand there will be differences of opinion, which should be welcomed as part of the public discussions. To utilize the platform of the Government website and Government letterhead to try to bully bloggers is totally unacceptable and foreign to the First Amendment.

This improper website use and letter has to be put in the context that my client then received a phone call from the Township Manager with the Police Chief on the same line. Clearly, such a tactic has the effect of chilling legitimate speech.

Further, when Ms. Benson spoke to the Township Manager about the letter, the response was an email dated September 7th to Ms. Benson criticizing her and supporting the use of public resources of the Supervisor without approval to criticize public comments.

It is a sad day if the Government resources can be used by Supervisors to defend their own personal issues. But it is a sadder day when the Government resources and the authority of the Government is used to try to chill First Amendment discussions.

I am requesting an apology to Ms. Benson and I ask that a policy be put in place to prevent Government resources to be used for individuals to express their personal dislike or disagreement of articles. It is unacceptable that an individual can use the power of Government to try to bully and prevent legitimate discussions of questionable conduct by Government officials.  I will await your advice. I hope to have a response in the next 7 days.

Very truly yours,

Samuel C. Stretton

Community Matters Closes the Chapter on Police Investigation but Tredyffrin Supervisor Opens a New Chapter

Is it time to close the chapter on the Police Department investigation?  

When I first read about two police officers not showing up at a criminal hearing in Tredyffrin, I admit I had many questions, which only increased as I learned more of the people and circumstances surrounding the situation.  The case may have gone by unnoticed were it not for the fact that the individual arrested in this case was Suzy Pratowski, a township Zoning Hearing Board member and socially linked to a township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro.  In the last few days, we learned that Pratowski had an arrest in June 2010, charged with DUI and child endangerment.  For the record, the child endangerment charge was dropped and although she plead guilty to the DUI.

Many of us had questions about this case, including why was the Pratowski case was moved from Judge Sondergaard’s (D) court to Judge Tartaglio’s (R) court.  Pratowski, until May of 2012 served as a local GOP committeewoman and the change of courts suggested political motives.  Why was this case continued from July to August … the continuance making it more difficult to understand why the two police officers did not show at the August hearing.  Without the police officers in attendance at the August 21 hearing, the Judge decided a ‘not guilty’ decision for Pratowski, case closed.  Why and how could this have happened?

In trying to come up with some answers, I did not set out to do my own investigation.  However, after the last three days, I am feeling like a cross between a freshman law clerk and a Lt. Colombo.  In the course of 72 hours, I have had extended phone conversations with Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan and Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors Chair Michelle Kichline and thorough discussions with District Court Judge Tom Tartaglio and Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Andy Giaimo.  Previously, I have shared my discussion with Hogan on Community Matters.

My next conversation occurred with Ms. Kichline. I learned that in addition to a review of the internal police investigation by the District Attorney’s office, she had personally conducted her own review.  Like many of us, Kichline questioned how it could happen that township police officers did not show up for a hearing, etc.  Although certainly not pleased with the situation, Kichline (like Hogan) was satisfied that the ‘clerical error’ or more correctly, the human error rested solely with the two police officers.  Appreciating that there was a perception in the public, me included, that there must be more to this story, Kichline suggested that if I had further questions or needed information regarding how the police receive court notifications, that Police Chief Supt. Giaimo would be happy to discuss it.

Police Chief Supt. Giaimo generously changed his schedule to meet with me yesterday.  Before going to the police department, I went to the District Court to ask for copies of any public documents surrounding this case.  In the process of explaining my request to the clerk, Judge Tartaglio thought he heard my voice, and came to the front lobby to talk with me.  Having read some of the misinformation in comments on Community Matters, Judge Tartaglio truly wanted me to understand the facts from the District Court side.  An unexpected opportunity for me, I found Tartaglio open and honest in his responses.  We had a lengthy 30 min conversation and I received copies of public documents in the three Pratowski cases (two criminal and one non-criminal).  I will highlight some of the misconceptions that some of us may have had surrounding the case.

First off, the Pratowski hearing was originally scheduled for Judge Sondergaard’s court.  At the request of Judge Sondergaard, the case was transferred out of her court (not at the request of Pratowski).  Stated reason for the transfer by Sondergaard – she knows the plaintiff.   As a point of clarification, when a Judge requests the transfer of a case, the request is sent to the County and they decide the disposition of the hearing.  It is not a given that cases are transferred between Sondergaard and Tartaglio although because of geography, the county generally tries to keep the cases convenient for those involved.

Next point, how does the Police Department receive notifications of hearings from the District Court? Each day, either a Tredyffrin police officer or a Police Department employee, physically comes to the District Court and picks up the communications.  Notifications are not mailed to the Police Department. (I will explain the Police Department handling of the District Court mail shortly).

Much discussion on Community Matters stemmed from what happened on the August 21 court date.  Who was at the hearing and who was not at Pratowski’s hearing.  There were six people expected to be at the hearing, the two police officers (Allen Dori and Dan McFadden) Pratowski and her attorney, Vince DiFabio, Pratowski’s ex-husband Jay Ciccarone and a witness.  The ‘witness’ was something new I learned from Judge Tartaglio … the witness was a neighbor of Ciccarone who saw Pratowski pull the flowers from Ciccarone’s property and gave a statement to the police.  To this point, I was not aware of a witness.  Ciccarone was claiming $200 in damages for the landscaping, which is why he would have needed to attend the hearing.  Pratowski, DiFabio and the witness (I have his name but don’t feel it’s necessary to name him) showed up but Ciccarone, Dori and McFadden did not show-up.  I later learned from Supt. Giaimo that criminal cases are typically scheduled for Fridays – this hearing was a Tuesday, which caused some confusion for the police officers, and apparently also for Ciccarone.

Judge Tartaglio showed me the courtroom and a typical schedule for hearings – yesterday there were 7 or 8 cases all scheduled for 9 AM.  He explained that everyone scheduled for that time shows up at the same time, some cases are very quick, such as granting a continuance, and they can go quickly through the list.  Sometimes people don’t show up and cases are dismissed.  In the Pratowski hearing, why wasn’t the case dismissed rather than a not guilty verdict.  Judge Tartaglio explained that it was his prerogative to make that decision.  We discussed that the plaintiff was paying her attorney to attend this hearing and the witness had to take time off from work to attend, was it fair that they should have to go through this again. There was no evidence presented in the case because the prosecution did not attend — Judge Tartaglio stands behind his decision of ‘not guilty’.

I asked about why didn’t someone call the police department and Judge Tartaglio’s response was that typically it is the police officers who call in to the court when they are running late, explaining that they are delayed due an emergency, etc. and the Judge is willing to wait, when required.

My overall takeaway from my visit to the District Court and discussion with Judge Tartaglio – an organized, well-managed office with a Judge that is forthcoming, honest and committed to doing a good job.  He wanted me to mention that if he had an emergency, the two police officers he would want helping would be Dori and McFadden!  I want to publicly thank Judge Tartaglio for his time and willingness to explain the court procedure.  I think he believed that if I understood the process, I could explain it correctly on Community Matters.

Leaving the District Court, I went to the Tredyffrin Township Police Department to meet with Police Supt. Tony Giaimo.  I described my previous conversations with DA Hogan, BOS chair Kichline and District Judge Tartaglio, and that all roads came back to the police department.  I offered that as a result of this particular situation, there is a negative perception of the Police Department by some, and that many residesnts are concerned that we do not have the full story.  Supt. Giaimo understood my concerns and was completely open and willing to explain the process, including what went wrong and how the process has been corrected.  Again, I will offer the highlights of our hour discussion.  First off, has this situation ever occurred where a police officer(s) did not show up a public hearing?  Since becoming police chief nine months ago, the answer is no.  Before that point, I did not think it fair to expect Supt. Giaimo to know when or how often something similar had occurred.  It is important to note that it had not previously happened under his watch.  Giaimo did offer that there could be a situation where a police officer was unavailable to attend due to an emergency, etc. and that a replacement may have to go.  Fair enough, he further stated that had he known that the police officers were not going to the Pratowski hearing, he himself would have attended.

Were the police officers notified of the August 21 hearing date?  Yes, the hearing continuance was received by the Police Department, the information correctly entered at the front office and the original notifications put in the police officers box.  Here was a problem, at least one of the officers had a full mailbox and the notice was buried in the paperwork.   I asked and was told, that the internal Police Department does not have a computerized master calendar.  I suggested to Supt. Giaimo that perhaps the system needed to change and automate.

The police officers do not have BlackBerrys (or anything similar), they transfer the hearing notifications into their daily planners.  According to Giaimo, unfortunately, neither police officer had the August 21 date in their daily planners.  I told him that it would be a lot easier to believe this human error, if it was one rookie cop involved rather than two seasoned career police officers, he agreed.

On to the investigation and review by the Police Department – I learned that the department has an Internal Affairs Officer who conducted the investigation. The report was reviewed by the District Attorney’s office and by BOS Chair Kichline.  Because of his association with Pratowski, BOS supervisor John DiBuonaventuro was interviewed; an entire page of questions were asked.  The investigation concluded that the supervisor was not involved.

Something that Supt. Giaimo volunteered which I found interesting … Giaimo’s immediate thought when he found out that the police officers had missed the Pratowski hearing was that the Police Department would re-file the case.  However, he quickly learned that due to Judge Tartaglio’s ‘not guilty’ verdict rather than a dismissal, the Pratowski case was closed and the option to re-file the case was no longer available.

Bottom line, not one but two police officers failed to show for this August 21 hearing, the day following their attendance at the Board of Supervisors meeting marking their promotions. Unfortunately, that is what happened, so were the officers reprimanded.  Yes, Supt. Giaimo explained that both received written reprimands and the permanent personnel files of the two police officers contain this information.  This was an important turning point for me … there is no way that I think that these two officers were influenced by a third-party not to show up at this hearing.  It would not be worth the price tag of a permanent blemish on their records to ‘help out’ or ‘do a favor’ .

Where does the Police Department go from here?  I told Supt. Giaimo that this unfortunate situation is more than just about two police officers making a mistake … it becomes a dark cloud for the Police Department.  He fully appreciates the seriousness of the situation and the public perception – if I was a betting person, I am about 100% positive that this situation will never occur again.  I asked what changes have been implemented internally to the system to lessen the chances of a repeat performance.  Supt. Giaimo  responded that he immediately added additional safeguards to the process.  Prior to the August 21 hearing, there were three steps in the process – (1) Log in of all District Court notices by Police Department personnel, (2) Clerk then enters notices in Share Point and (3) Paper copy of notices put in to appropriate officer’s mailboxes.  Two additional steps are now in place – (4) Hearing notices are read out loud daily at the beginning of each shift change and (5) Police Department supervisors review daily the time schedules of all their officers.  The additional steps should guarantee that this type of situation does not occur again.

In closing, I am completely satisfied that this was a case, unfortunately of human error; — a situation complicated by the fact that the individual involved was a public official (a member of the Zoning Hearing Board) and that there were two officers involved versus one.  In the end, it was a mistake and I know one that will not be repeated.

I am grateful to Supt. Tony Giaimo, District Judge Tom Tartaglio, BOS chair Michelle Kichline and District Attorney Tom Hogan for their candor, openness and honesty.  Each of them supported my effort to find answers and understood the importance of the public’s right to know the facts.  Answers to the questions were provided with the complete understanding and support that the information would be shared on Community Matters.

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I hope that all who read the above narrative, come away with a positive feeling about these four individuals (Tom Hogan, Michelle Kichline, Tom Tartaglio and Tony Giaimo) and the parts of our local government that they represent – I believe that these individuals respect the citizens of Tredyffrin and are trying to do ‘what’s right’ by us.

Unfortunately, as I was completing this exhaustive summary, I was told of an open letter to the citizens, penned by BOS supervisor John DiBuonaventuro.  Apparently, DiBuonaventuro does not support Main Line Media News, Community Matters or the civil rights of citizens to express their opinions on this topic.  Below is the last paragraph of DiBuonaventuro’s letter, click here for the full text. The tag line for Community Matters is “Your Voice Matters, Join the Conversation” and I stand behind it … we, as the community do matter and your voice does count!

“I strongly believe in “freedom of speech,” but not in “freedom of defamation.” I believe the “Community Matters” blog began with good intent, but it has, for whatever personal reasons and misguidance, mestastasized into a channel of direct personal attacks on individuals in public service and/or its entities.  Almost all who have participated in those unsubstantiated allegations, criticisms, and false accusations remain cowardly anonymous.  I also question if they would have the fortitude and stamina to engage in a one-on-one campaign for elected office let alone serve in a position with little or not pay, full responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens they serve, and which appears to offer nothing more than continuous ridicule in return.

I have closed the chapter on the police investigation but it looks like Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro has opened a new chapter.  I am saddened that supervisor DiBuonaventuro has taken such a negative view of me, Community Matters and of those citizens who comment on Community Matters, whether anonymously or not.  For the record, I was the one who clarified the perception that readers could have from the Main Line Media News story due to the associated photo of DiBuonaventuro and Pratowski.   I explained on Community Matters that the unnamed male was not DiBuonaventuro but according to the police report, an attorney from Haverford.  Carla Zambelli of Chester County Ramblings has posted the DiBuonaventuro’s letter and asks the question, is the letter a “threat”?  Read it and you be the judge.  In my world, community and our voice does matter!

UPDATE: DA Tom Hogan Weighs In … Is it a Get Out of Jail Free Card for Tredyffrin Official? You be the Judge!

9-3-12 UPDATE: District Attorney Tom Hogan Weighs In (See end of post)

There was a troubling news article in last week’s Main Line Media News  about one of Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board members, Suzy Pratowski.  TE Patch, the Daily Local and, then a couple of days ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer, picked up the story.

There are several reasons why I think this story caught people’s attention, me included.  The initial newspaper headline, ‘Zoning hearing board member not guilty after police are a no-show at her trial’, causing some of us a double take.  Zoning hearing board member? Trial? MIA police officers?  What was all of this about? Since when do township police officers not show up at trials?  I cannot believe that this is a regular occurrence … I wonder when the last time was that a police officer did not show up for a scheduled hearing?

Remembering back a few years ago,  I decided to fight a traffic violation in Tredyffrin and showed up at my scheduled time at Judge Blackburn’s courtroom.  The traffic officer who had written my citation arrived on time for the hearing with his 6 in. thick codebook ready to defend his case against me.  Although I was well prepared, (albeit sans an attorney), the police officer’s testimony prevailed – I lost the case and paid my fine.  The point is, my hearing was for a routine traffic violation and the officer involved showed up.  From the newspaper articles, Pratowski’s case is far from routine, and she isn’t just ‘Joe Citizen’ … Suzy Pratowski is a supervisor-appointed member of Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board.

For those that have not followed the case, Pratowski was arrested in Chesterbrook on May 28, charged on two counts, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and issued citations. The situation involved a domestic altercation between Pratowski and her former husband, Jay Ciccarone.  I have read the police reports and the account in the newspaper is accurate with one clarification. When Pratowski arrived to pick up her children at Ciccarone’s house, she was not driving but rather a passenger in a car driven by an unnamed male, a designated driver.  Ciccarone was unwilling to turn the two boys over to Pratowski, citing their custody agreement, which requires that Ms. Pratowski not drink alcohol 10 hours before driving and picking up the children. The police officer determined that Pratowski had been drinking and therefore the children should remain with Ciccarone.

A photo accompanying the Main Line Media newspaper article showed Ms. Pratowski with township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro at a 2011 Devereux charity event.  In reading the article, in conjunction with the accompanying photo, it is possible that a reader could conclude that DiBuonaventuro was the unnamed male driver on May 28.  However, that assumption would be wrong … the police report names a Haverford attorney as the driver, not supervisor DiBuonaventuro.  Pratowski left Ciccarone’s home without the children however, returned later that night on her bicycle and police were again called.  With a PBT (preliminary breath test) reading of .18, the officer cited Pratowski with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and returned her home in a police car.

Two years earlier, in June 2010, during a vehicle stop, Pratowski was charged with DUI, having received a PBT reading of .127.  Pratowski’s two children were in the vehicle at the time and although initially charged with child endangerment, that charge was later dropped. Pratowski pleaded guilty to the DUI.  In reading the police report from 2010, I noted that situation also involved Pratowski’s former husband Jay Ciccarone.  Concerned for his children’s wellbeing, it was Ciccarone who called the police which ultimately resulted in Pratowski’s DUI arrest. The recent May 2012 incident was Pratowski’s second involving alcohol — a second offense that could have had grave consequences for Pratowski legally.

Although the charges against Pratowski were significant, it remains a real mystery as to why the police officers involved were no-shows at her hearing.  Not just one police officer but two officers failed to show up.  How is this possible? According to the Main Line Media News article, “Tredyffrin police Lt. Taro Landis said the officer who was supposed to show up in court that day was on another call at the time.”  The police department explained the absent police officer as an ‘oversight’.  Considering this was a second offense for this defendant, I do question why the police officer would have another call at the time. No mention as to why the other police officer was also MIA for the hearing.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer follow-up article, Tredyffrin Police Chief Tony Giaimo cited a ‘clerical error’ on the part of the officers as to the reason they did not show up at Pratowski’s trial.  He further stated that the officers were disciplined but offered no details.  OK, I’m confused … if it was a clerical error, why would the police officers need to be disciplined?  And where exactly did the clerical error occur; within the police department, the District Court … the police officer’s Blackberry schedule?

It needs to be stated that the police officers involved in Pratowski’s May 28 arrest were not rookie cops. Allen Dori, is a 10-yr. veteran in the Tredyffrin police department and Daniel McFadden, a 20-year veteran and a certified crime scene investigator.  Coincidentally just a couple of days before the Main Line Media story first appeared on August 24, both Dori and McFadden were promoted at the August 20 Board of Supervisors meeting. Police officer Dori was promoted from patrol officer to corporal and McFadden promoted from patrol officer to detective.  Based on their experience and background, these two police officers do not strike me as individuals who would miss an important hearing because of a clerical error!

So let me understand this correctly, if there is a clerical error and the arresting police officer (or in this case, two police officers) does not show up at the hearing, the case is simply dismissed.  Does this mean that the records of the case are expunged?  When a clerical error occurs, am I to understand that there is no such thing as the rescheduling of the hearing.  Magically, the problem is solved and the defendant receives a ‘pass’. Wow … amazing! Based on the remarks that Police Chief Giaimo gave to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it appears that the matter is closed, but should it be?  .

In addition to process questions surrounding this incident, we are left with the open issue about Pratowski’s suitability to serve on the township’s Zoning Hearing Board.  Appeals for relief from decisions of the Zoning Officer and/or requirements in the zoning Ordinance are handled by the ZHB. Unlike other boards and commissions in the township, the ZHB is a quasi-judicial body whose decisions are not subject to the approval of the supervisors. I am thinking that Pratowski’s guilty verdict for DUI in June 2010 should have warranted her dismissal from the ZHB.  For those of you wondering what the grounds are for removal from the ZHB, the following is from the PA Municipal Planning Code that governs the ZHB in our municipality:

Article IX – Zoning Hearing Board and other Administrative Proceedings

Section 905. Removal of Members. Any board member may be removed for malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office or for other just cause by a majority vote of the governing body which appointed the member, taken after the member has received 15 days’ advance notice of the intent to take such a vote. A hearing shall be held in connection with the vote if the member shall request it in writing.

Reading the section titled ‘Removal of Members’, it would appear that Pratowski should be removed from the ZHB. Pratowski occupies the seat on the Zoning Hearing Board once held by John Petersen.  As a former ZHB member, a supervisor and an attorney, I asked him for his comments –

I was very sad to hear about Suzy’s troubles. I’ve known her to be a good person and I sincerely hope that she gets to a point, for the benefit of her and her children,  where portions of her life are not being played out in the paper. In most cases, this would be a private matter. Back in 2005 when I was appointed to fill  vacancy on the BOS, I left the ZHB and had recommended Suzy to take my place. I was happy to do so then as she was qualified and has done a good job. However, as a former member of the governing body and the ZHB, I also have to consider the consequences of actions that place confidence in our public institutions at risk. Serving is a privilege, not a right. Given the history here, I have to wonder why Suzy was not removed from the ZHB back in 2010. These latest incidents only serve to add to growing list of questions concerning the integrity of our local government. It’s even worse when there is no confidence in the police, who at various times, holds, albeit brief, a decisive role in a person’s individual freedom. Between township staff, elected officials, certain boards and appointees or the dealings of those appointees and the police, nothing appears to be working correctly in Tredyffrin Township. I  actually fear our government and police as they don’t act in the citizens’ best interest.

As to the “clerical error”, as a lawyer, I find that to be hard to believe. It’s a rather generic answer – one that the Inquirer should have followed up on with this simple question: “What was the error?” The workings between the district courts, the County and the various police departments are actually quite efficient. If this was a clerical error, then it was an error that was of the same proportion of that single bullet on that fateful day on November 22, 1963. There would have had to have been errors in Judge Sondergaard’s office as well as the administration in the police department and other people. Did other Tredyffrin Police manage to show up that day for other cases, or the day prior or after? Why this case? Why this person? When was the last time this sort of thing happened? Maybe it’s a common practice? But for Suzy’s private issues and the fact that she is a public official did this one come to light? Again, it’s about the appearance of impropriety.

Nobody has mentioned this yet, but I think it is fair game for DA Tom Hogan to make an inquiry here. As I see it, a full and open investigation is the only way the matter can get cleared up. We’ve already had a major scandal with former chief Chambers. And not too long before Chambers, chief Harkness was dismissed amidst a cloud of allegations the subject of which are/were part of a confidentiality agreement.  Between that, alleged civil rights violations and other things – it’s not been a good time for the police or the government as a whole.

For longer than I care to remember, too many bad acts. In many ways, we’ve not progressed beyond Harry Marrone. Too many questions. This really goes to the honor and integrity of people. What I’ve been seeing lately is a lot of inaction and indecisiveness from township leadership. Again I ask – when is it going to stop? When are the adults going to take charge? When can people have confidence that their government and police will treat all people fairly and equally instead of calling person’s political affiliations out as just being a “Data point?” Anybody else, with these players involved, and I doubt seriously that there would be a “Clerical error.”  And when they don’t treat people fairly and equally, will those same governmental actors ever be held accountable? Candidly, I was not a fan of Giamo’s promotion – given the recent history. Has nothing to do with Tony as a person or his qualifications. It has everything to do with the integrity of the institution and the confidence that public has in that institution. Sometimes, you just have to bring people in from the outside. I believe had we had truly shaken things up, there would not have been a “Clerical error.” One simply cannot look past the fact that Suzy was at a time, a TTRC member, dating a supervisor and of course, is a member of the ZHB. Anybody who cites those factors as being irrelevant is simply being willfully naïve.  I lost my political mentor John Waldeyer in 2005. He was a good man and a great steward of good and honorable political values. He always said to me that the most important thing in politics and service is to be identified with good government. Everything else takes care of itself.  A lot of people forgot those words. I’ve never forgotten them. John would be absolutely ashamed of what we see today. And if he were around today, we would not see the crap we’ve seen for the last 7 years.  People around here have long forgotten what good government is. No government is perfect, but it can still be good nevertheless. John exercised discipline. John was an adult.

Finally, a personal plea to Suzy – if you have not done so, offer up your resignation. Doing so would mark the first time in a very long time a public official did the right thing in the face of adversity.

 Do Tredyffrin Township residents really need another St. Davids sidewalk saga or a ‘big check’ moment — remember the fire funding spectacle with cameras rolling? As Carla Zambelli, fellow blogger and friend, wrote on Chester County Ramblings in her post , “enough Tredyffrin. enough”   … “Tredyffrin needs to get its house in order and stop sounding and acting like a Shakespearian tragedy meets a made for TV movie on Lifetime.”   Carla does have a way with words, just wish in this case, she wasn’t right.

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9-3-12 UPDATE:  District Attorney Tom Hogan Weighs In

I sent an email to District Attorney Tom Hogan, asking if this situation constitutes an investigation by his office.  The DA called and we had a lengthy discussion on this matter.  It is with his permission that I can offer this update.  According to the Hogan, there has been an investigation and review.  Police Chief Tony Giaimo conducted an internal department investigation and then asked for an outside review from the District Attorney’s office on the ‘clerical error’ matter.  According to the internal police report, there were scheduling issues and the two police officers were not notified of Suzy Pratowski’s hearing date.  The DA also reported that Pratowski’s former husband Jay Cicarrone was also not notified of the hearing date.  Pratowski and her attorney were the only ones to receive notification.

Hogan also offered that because of township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro’s relationship with Pratowski (and questions concerning his possible involvement), the police as part of the investigation interviewed DiBuonaventuro.  The police department determined that DiBuonaventuro was not involved in the situation. The internal investigation determined that a clerical error as the reason that the two officers missed the hearing.  The District Attorney’s office reviewed the police department findings and was satisfied by the report.

I asked the DA how often does  a clerical error occur that police officers miss a scheduled hearing. Although Hogan said that it does happen, he did say it was not common in Tredyffrin Township.  I let our District Attorney know that many of us were troubled by the appearance of this situation.  For the record, the District Attorney’s office has no jurisdiction over Pratowski’s continued membership on Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board – the appointment and removal of ZHB members is a Board of Supervisors matter.

There was discussion of the ‘not guilty’ verdict for Pratowsk, given that the two police officers and Cicarrone did not attend the hearing.  I will defer the legal explanation of the judicial process to John Petersen, who also spoke with Tom Hogan. Here are John’s comments:

I had an opportunity to speak to DA Tom Hogan on the matter. Normally, jeopardy does not attach in a case like this until the first witness is sworn – when the trier of fact (the judge in this case) has begun his journey of fact finding. This is all about protecting a defendant’s 5th amendment rights to due process, and specifically, a defendant’s right to not be tried more than once for the same crime. In this case, the judge had 3 options (really only two legitimate options in my opinion). The first is to find the defendant not guilty and close the case. This would NOT have been appropriate in my opinion because the prosecution was not present due to what has been regarded as an honest clerical error. How could a judge weigh facts that were not presented? The big problem with this option – jeopardy attaches. To review, in this case, not only did the police not show up, but the judge took the one choice that assured this matter went away forever.

The other two options were to 1 – dismiss without prejudice – giving leave to the police to re file the charges or 2 – to simply continue the trial. It seems to me the one that was most prudent in this case was to simply order a continuance. That would have remediated the clerical error and it would not have resulted in any constitutionally protected rights of the defendant being violated.  Dismissing the case would have required the police to re-file charges – which would have resulted in additional time and expense.

Apparently, Judge Rita Arnold, another DJ, successfully quashed a citation against her son. In her case, she was suspended for 30 days. She’s back on the bench. As for her son, he gets off scot free.  If you are thinking it pays to have connections you are right. I have been told there is a strong likelihood of a memo going out to DJ’s that gives better guidance on when it’s appropriate to make a determination on guilt vs. a dismissal vs. a continuance. It’s a bit concerning that guidance has to be given on this. Shouldn’t judges know better? The DJ system is broken and this reinforces my opinion that DJ’s need to be lawyers. This often surprises folks that DJ’s don’t need to be lawyers.

My conclusion on this – we’ll likely never know what really happened here.  I have to ask whether a regular, non-connected person would be as lucky? The answer is absolutely not. Justice was not served here. And yet again, a connected person caught breaks that non-connected people don’t get. I am left with no other conclusion that this particular defendant was helped by many people with influence. How and why do I conclude that? Because there are no facts to suggest otherwise.

I have no faith in any aspect of our local government, it’s people and it’s ability to do the right thing.

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