EJ Richter

League of Women Voters Debate: Part II, Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisor Candidates

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NOTE: The TE School Board candidate debate and the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors candidate debate are now available on the township website, click here.

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The League of Women Voters candidate debate for the Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidates followed the TE School Board candidates debate on Saturday.  The format was the same – 2-minute opening statements, audience questions read by LWV moderator and then 2-minute closing statement by candidates. All six candidates participated, Michelle Kichline (R), Trip Lukens (R), Mark Freed (D) and Murph Wysocki (D) for the two At-Large supervisor seats and Laurie Elliott (D) and EJ Richter (R) for the Middle supervisor seat.

Many of the audience members from the school board debate remained for the supervisor debate.  Perhaps due to the lateness in scheduling of the school board debate, there appeared to be many more residents attended the supervisor debate.  Whereas the focus of many of the audience questions for the school board candidates focused on communication, transparency and trust issue, it was interesting to note that no such questions were posed to the supervisor candidates.  Both the TE School Board and the Tredyffrin Township had two incumbents participating in the LWV forum – Kevin Buraks (D) and Rich Brake (R) for the School Board and Michelle Kichline (R) and EJ Richter (R) for the Board of Supervisors. TE School Board president (Buraks) and the Board of Supervisors Chair (Kichline) are both incumbents, seeking reelection.

The supervisor forum quickly became the debate between (1) the accomplishments of the current board versus (2) the criticism from their opponents of what more could have been accomplished.  Three of the four At-Large supervisor candidates (Kichline, Freed, and Wysocki) are attorneys; their banter and positioning making the fact obvious. However, with a background in commercial real estate evaluation and six years on the Planning Commission, Trip Lukens, the at-large supervisor candidate (without the legal background) handily held his own.  Although currently serving as an at-large supervisor, Chesterbrook resident EJ Richter is seeking election to the middle district seat, her opponent is Laurie Elliott from the Glenhardie section of the township.

Elliott’s message was primarily focused on safety and stormwater.  On safety, she supports the police department but due to increase in daytime burglaries, wants to make certain that the department remains fully staffed.  As a Glenhardie resident, she is eager to see solutions to the township’s stormwater issue and believes we need action rather than more studies.

Richter focused her statement to her role as ‘taxpayer advocate’ as she did in the 2009 election, claiming that while in office she has never voted for a property tax increase. In addition to her no tax increase stance, Richter offered a couple of accomplishments during her term as supervisor – the creation of ‘Tree-dyffrin’, the planting of trees in Wilson Farm Park for storm water management and working to get township street lights replaced.

In her second year as chair of the Board of Supervisors, Kichline pointed to some of the township achievements including the development of a citizen advisory committee that is working on ideas for keeping Tredyffrin competitive in the commercial development market.  Under her leadership, Kichline noted a new township website, new software that improves the planning and zoning process, and named several companies that have relocated to the township, including Auxilium and Teleflex, in addition to Shire’s decision not to leave. Kichline argued that the revitalization is beginning in Paoli and cited the $15 million residential project recently approved the SEPTA plan and the planned relocation of the dangerous N. Valley Bridge to Darby Road.

As a member of the Planning Commission, Lukens spoke of the process to rewrite the commercial zoning ordinance for the township as a vehicle to encourage development in the township. According to Lukens, the rewrite required a ‘looking outside the box’ approach and as an example mentioned the commercial zoning rewrite included increasing building height restrictions and structured parking as a means of better storm water management.

Freed, an environmental attorney, focused his attention on township storm water issues and ‘smart development’, pointing out the ;underused resources in the business parks and shopping centers;. Claiming that he, “knows how to get things done” Freed scoffed at Richter’s suggestion that Tredyffrin is undergoing a Renaissance with new restaurants, retail, etc. saying, “If this is a Renaissance, I’d hate to see what the Dark Ages were like”.   As pointed to by Kichline and Richter, a number of new retail stores, restaurants, companies have recently opened in Tredyffrin. Freed dismissed these as individual successes, preferring to focus on empty office buildings, shopping centers and storefronts.  According to him, enough with the “plan, plan, plan, study, study, study, money, money, money – we need action”.

With thirty-five years of experience as a commercial real estate lawyer, Wysocki’s focus was similar to Freed on the need for smart commercial redevelopment.  However, Wysocki’s particular focus was on the Paoli Transportation Town Center, restating several times that the project has been in the works for 20 years, and there is still no shovel in the ground. His frustration with the project delays was evident; believing that his background and experience can move it forward and that he” knows how to solve problems and get results”.  He suggests broadening the tax base with commercial redevelopment projects to increase commercial revenues and as result, residents will enjoy higher property values.

The common thread throughout the 2 hours was the need for economic redevelopment in the township – the question is which candidate can best make that happen.  Fifty percent of the supervisor candidates point to change that has occurred, including the updated township website and technology, commercial zoning re-write, new restaurants and retail stores, corporate re-relocations, citizen advisory group, etc. as an indicator of the future while the remaining candidates believe that the redevelopment in the community is not moving quickly enough and that more should be done.

The economic revitalization of Tredyffrin Township is critical to to the future of our community and a topi on which all six candidates agree.  The decision for the voter on November 5th  is which supervisor candidates are best prepared to make it happen. I encourage you to watch the debates, review the candidate’s websites and speak directly to the candidates — tell them your concerns; ask them your questons.    Election Day is Tuesday, November 5!

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What do the sidewalks at St. Davids and Former Police Chief Andy Chambers have in common?

What do the St. Davids sidewalks and former Police Chief Andy Chambers have in common? There is an eerie similarity between a vote of the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors on January 25, 2010 and a recent T/E School Board vote of January 7.

January 25, 2010 BOS Meeting:  Even though there was a signed land development agreement between Tredyffrin Township and St. Davids Golf Club requiring sidewalks, the Tredyffrin’s supervisors approved the return of $25K escrow money to the country club; removing the sidewalk agreement. Besides suggested Home Rule Charter violations surrounding the return of the escrow money, there was the procedural problem that the proposal had not appeared on the BOS meeting’agenda.  Against the objections of many residents and some of the supervisors, the motion carried 4-3.  For the record, Bob Lamina, Paul Olson, Warren Kampf and EJ Richter voted in favor of the motion and Michelle Kichline, Phil Donohue and John DiBuonaventuro voted against the motion.

After much media publicity, many letters to the editor, accusations of Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act violations, claims of deal-making and general resident outrage, the supervisors reversed and rescinded their decision at the following Board of Supervisors meeting in March 2010.  Public comment is guaranteed by the Sunshine Act and the public’s rights were violated by the St. Davids sidewalk vote of January 25, 2010.

Fast forward to January 7, 2013:  Instead of the township failing to notify the public of an intended motion on its meeting agenda, it was the T/E School Board who failed to notify the public.  On January 7, the Board held a special meeting for the primary purpose to consider the 2013-14 preliminary budget proposal.  At the meeting, the School Board voted to apply for Act 1 exceptions beyond the 1.7% allowable tax cap.

A consent agenda listed on the January 7 meeting agenda included the approval of December 3 meeting minutes, monthly financial reports, routine personnel actions, etc. but made no mention of anything safety-related such as enhancements or the hiring of a District safety consultant. However, as we later learned, the hiring of former police chief Andy Chambers as the District Security Consultant (hourly rate – $125) was approved …  as it was ‘last-minute’ included along with the other items in the consent agenda. The agenda did not notify the public that the School Board would discuss anything safety-related at the special meeting, let alone the hiring of a ‘security consultant’.

Someone needs to explain to me how the actions of the School Board on January 7 are any different from the actions of the Board of Supervisors of January 25, 2010.  Both of these examples speak to the process of our government. The fact is that the Board of Supervisors vote of two years ago was not about sidewalks in the same way that the School Board’s vote of January 7 is not about the hiring of Andy Chambers as the District’s security consultant.  Rather, it is about transparency and open meetings; the basis for positive discussions between citizens and their elected officials.  Government decisions should not be made in secret.

The Sunshine Act defines when government bodies must conduct official business in public and private, when they should allow public comment, and how and when to advertise meetings. Executive closed meetings can only be called for the following six reasons:

  • Discussions of matters involving employment or performance of officers or employees of the agency, provided that any affected individual is given the opportunity to request, in writing, that the meeting be held in public.
  • Meetings involving collective bargaining, labor relations, and arbitration.
  • To consider the purchase or lease of real property.
  • matters falling under the attorney-client privilege regarding litigation or issues where an identifiable complaint is expected to be filed.
  • To discuss agency business which, if discussed in public, would lead to the disclosure of information protected by law, including ongoing investigations and information exempt under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know
  • To discuss matters of academic standing or admission at state schools

Responding to follow-up comments on the topic of the Sunshine Act, Keith Knauss, school board member of the Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCF) offered this comment on Community Matters —

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. If the board met in executive session and deliberated on hiring Mr. Chambers, then they probably violated the Sunshine Act even though the official vote was taken in open session. It doesn’t matter if it is a contract or not. We’re conjecturing that the board deliberated (illegally) in executive session and based on that deliberation, took an official action to disburse funds to Mr. Chambers. We, of course, can only conjecture since the meeting was closed to the public.
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The current Sunshine Act took effect on January 3, 1987. This law replaces the old Open Meetings Laws of 1957 and 1974, Under the old law, public agencies were required to hold open meetings only if votes were taken or official policy adopted. This led to the frequent abuse of discussing and deciding issues in so-called “workshop” sessions, with the official public meetings being relegated to conducting formal votes on issues already decided in advance. The current Act requires that any deliberations leading up to official actions also take place at public meetings. Municipal governing bodies have no authority, either under the municipal codes or the Sunshine Act, to conduct “workshop” sessions.’

Question … At the upcoming January 28 School Board meeting, will the Board take responsibility for their January 7 action and reverse their decision to hire Andy Chambers as the District Security Consultant?

If the Board understands the Sunshine Act, and supports the importance of open meetings, the choice they make on January 28 will be simple.  The Board accepts responsibility for the situation and takes the necessary steps to correct the situation; reversing the decision and then appropriately advertising the matter for public discussion.

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Tredyffrin’s proposed sidewalk amendment is separate and apart from St. Davids Golf Club sidewalks . . . so agree Supervisors Heaberg, DiBuonaventuro and Kichline

I think that we’re making progress on the sidewalk saga of St. Davids Golf Club. Last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting marked the first of multi-public hearings planned to review the township’s proposed sidewalk amendment change to the land development ordinance. 

If you recall, sidewalk discussion in the township began 19 months ago (December 2009) over St. Davids Golf Club and their pre-existing land development agreement to build sidewalks.  Although the Planning Commission had repeatedly rejected appeals by the country club not to build the sidewalks contained in their agreement with the township, some supervisors did not support the building of the sidewalks.  At that time, there was much heated debate between supervisors and residents, including the threat of a lawsuit against the township.  Less than favorable headlines marked this dark time in Tredyffrin history. 

Because of the turmoil created by the St. Davids sidewalk issue, a special sidewalk subcommittee was formed which met monthly for over a year.  The subcommittee gathered public input, held public meetings and conducted a resident survey.  They reviewed the “Green Routes Network”, pedestrian and bicycle network and applicable sidewalks requirements.

I attended the sidewalks subcommittee meetings and the group unanimously approved to send their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Their recommendations (including the sidewalks at St. Davids) were presented to the Board of Supervisors – earlier this year, the supervisors voted unanimously to accept the recommendations of the sidewalk subcommittee.

The supervisors asked the Planning Commission to review the sidewalk subcommittee recommendations and create a new sidewalk amendment for the land development ordinance. After Planning Commission input, the proposed sidewalk amendment was sent back to the supervisors for discussion through a public hearing, which brings us to last night.

I should mention that supervisors Phil Donahue and Bob Lamina were absent for last night’s supervisors meeting and public hearing.  As vice chair of the Board of Supervisors, Paul Olson presided over the meeting and the public hearing.  Mimi Gleason presented a slide presentation on the proposed sidewalk amendment as an overview before turning it over the supervisors for questions and comments. 

First to offer his comments, Mike Heaberg remarked that he was of the opinion that the ordinance change should only affect prospective land development agreements, not pre-existing land development agreements.  John DiBuonaventuro agreed with Heaberg, suggesting that the amendment change should focus on future projects. Likewise, Michelle Kichline agreed with Heaberg and DiBuonaventuro. EJ Richter did not state an opinion on this issue but Olson repeatedly commented that sidewalks cost taxpayers money.  Olson asked Steve Burgo how many additional miles of sidewalks could be built in the township, and followed that question with how much would it cost to build the sidewalks.  Gleason quickly injected that the sidewalks would only be built as areas are developed and included in land development agreements.  She explained that taxpayers do not pay for the sidewalks – sidewalks are part of subdivision and non-residential land development plans and developers are responsible for those costs.

It was as if Olson did not understand Gleason or refused to accept her information.  The entire sidewalk amendment discussion continued to be laced with Olson’s talking about ‘sidewalks to nowhere’ and that there were better uses of taxpayer money, etc.  It was then the public’s turn to speak. 

Tory Snyder, who chaired the sidewalk subcommittee and is a member of the planning commission, very succinctly explained the Green Routes network and how the sidewalks, bicycle paths and trails fit into the overall master plan of the township.  Although it was clear from Snyder that developers pay the cost of sidewalks, etc. in their land development agreements, Olson refused to accept the information and continued to remark about the state of the economy and that taxpayers could not afford to pay for sidewalks.

It was frustrating to listen to the discussion of supervisors and then members of the public of the pros and cons of sidewalks in the township – it was as if time had stood still and we were back in December of 2009, rehashing it all over again. The only difference between December 2009 and July 2011 is that no one mentioned the ‘elephant in the room’ – the sidewalks at St. Davids. 

Heaberg, DiBuonaventuro and Kichline stated, that they were of the opinion that the proposed sidewalk amendment change should be for prospective development only, but did not specifically use the words ‘St. Davids’.  Although there are currently eight open land development projects in the township (which include sidewalks in their agreement) clearly, St. Davids is the long-standing open sidewalk issue, stemming back years and what many believe is the impetus to amend the township’s sidewalk ordinance.

Unable to sit any longer, I needed clarification – specifically on the St. Davids sidewalk issue.  I asked and received confirmation from DiBuonaventuro, Heaberg and Kichline that their opinion was that the sidewalks at St. Davids were separate and apart from the proposed sidewalk amendment. Kichline clarified further that the eight open land development projects (including St. Davids) would not be affected by the proposed amendment change.  These supervisors reiterated that the proposed sidewalk amendment should be for prospective developments, not pre-existing agreements.

I then turned by question about St. Davids sidewalk to Olson and Richter.  Olson repeated that these sidewalks at St. Davids were ‘sidewalks to nowhere’ and that people didn’t want them.  He further suggested to me that would not it be better to take the money for the sidewalks at St. Davids and give it to the fire company.  At this point, Kichline jumped in to tell Olson that his suggestion was ‘illegal’ – you cannot transfer money from one organization to another.   

I prefaced my question to Richter by pointing out, that as a member of the sidewalk subcommittee, that she voted in favor of the subcommittee’s recommendations which included sidewalks at St. Davids.  Her response was that she viewed that recommendation as a ‘starting point’.  When I pressed her about the sidewalks at St. Davids, her response was that she was ‘neutral’What does that mean? You believe either that St. Davids sidewalks should be considered in the proposed ordinance change or you do not.  As I suggested to her, a ‘yes or no’ response was what I was looking for – but I received ‘neutral’.

So where do we stand on this topic?  Summing up, the eight pre-existing land development agreements should be separate and apart as agreed by DiBuonaventuro, Heaberg and Kichline.  No was from Olson and a ‘neutral’ from Richter.  I asked the supervisors where we go with this and Kichline offered that she thought that Phil Donahue and Bob Lamina should weigh in at the August meeting. 

The August BOS meeting will mark 20 months since this saga began and I think we are all ready for final resolution. I would like to see (1) a vote that the proposed sidewalk amendment is for prospective development only (the eight pre-existing land development agreements are separate from this amendment) and (2) a vote to enforce the construction of sidewalks contained in the pre-existing land development agreements.

It has been years since St. Davids Golf Club signed the land development agreement with the township and now the conditions of the contract need to be enforced.  As a community, we need to close this chapter!

Kudos to Kichline, DiBuonaventuro and Heaberg . . . great progress last night and I am looking forward to final resolution in August.

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