John DiBuonaventuro

No Oscars but Locals Receive Awards for their ‘Antithesis of Outstanding Performances’

Last weekend, Los Angeles played host to the glitterati of the film world for Oscar night, the world’s greatest wrap party.  The evening was filled with the glamorous fashions, long-winded acceptance speeches and first-time host Seth MacFarlane, his controversial humor making for an interesting choice for Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show.

From the moment that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces its annual award nominations, the campaign season for a little golden man kicks into high gear, with movie studios spending large amounts of money in an attempt to influence Academy voters.  For moviegoers, armed with personal award predictions of who will take home Hollywood’s biggest prize, the red-carpet evening always entertains.

Ray Hoffman noted the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s big night in Main Line Suburban Life today by presenting a few local “performance awards” of his own.  In lieu of a golden statuette, Hoffman presented ‘Razzy’ trophies to deserving locals for their “antithesis of outstanding performance”. 

Banter’s Razzy winners include –

  1. The Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Performance by a Community Board’ for its long-standing stonewalling of the sidewalk issue at St. Davids Golf Club;
  2. The T/E Board of School Directors for ‘Worst Case of Communicating with the Public’ in the matter of hiring of former Tredyffrin Police Chief Andy Chambers as special school safety consultant;
  3. Former Easttown Township Manager Mike Brown for ‘Worst Performance in a Short Subject’, his term of office lasted only 13 months;
  4. Easttown Township BOS for ‘Worst Use of a Worn Excuse for Termination of a Manager’ in the matter of Brown’s firing so that he could “pursue other opportunities”; and
  5. Regency Center for ‘Worst Application of Pedestrian Walkways in a Shopping Center Parking Lot’ at Gateway Shopping Center.

Looking back over the last 12 months, I think Hoffman may have missed some deserving Razzy winners.  Here are some personal additions:

  1. Former Tredyffrin Township Manager, Planning Commission and BOS for ‘Worst Zoning Amendment Change for a Specific Developer’ in the matter of a C-1 zoning amendment change so developer Ed Morris can build an assisted living facility on the old Jimmy Duffy’s catering site in Daylesford;
  2. T/E Board of School Directors for ‘Worst Board Participation in Teacher Contract Negotiations’ for not having a seat at the contract negotiation table;
  3. Tredyffrin Township Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro for ‘Worst Attack of a Private Citizen by an Elected Official using Township Resources’ for the matter of using official township letterhead and the township website for a personal tirade against a resident;
  4. Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Communication Website Policy’ which permits individual township supervisors to use the public’s township website for personal reasons; and
  5. Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Police Department Study Not Used’ in the matter of spending $49K for a boilerplate consulting study and then not following the consultant’s advice and hiring additional police officers.

Question Remains as to When Tredyffrin Supervisors will Authorize the Hiring of 2 Budgeted Police Officers

The question for me at last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting was, “When will the township hire the budgeted police officers?”

The $49 K police operations study by ICMA (International City/County Management Association) police has fueled some ongoing debate.  Two of ICMA’s consultants, Leonard Matarese and Paul O’Connell, presented their final report to the supervisors and took their questions at last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting.  Their attendance at the meeting was the result of a less than satisfactory attempt at ‘skyping’ at the December supervisors meeting.

O’Connell detailed the consultant’s findings contained in the police department study, focusing on what ICMA determined was the required staffing requirements for Tredyffrin’s Police Department.  According to O’Connell, under existing Police Department shift arrangements, the following is ICMA’s recommendation for officers:

  • 34 patrol
  • 3 command
  • 1 community policing
  • 2 traffic
  • 3-6 detectives

The consulting report recommends 43-46 officers; a minimum of 43 officers required to maintain the existing level of safety of the community.  If you recall, Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo requested 47 officers at the December 3 BoS meeting and asked that the Board to consider reinstating 47 officers in the 2013 budget.  However, the supervisors approved the budget with 42 officers.

There are currently only 39 police officers (actually there are 40 officers listed on the roster but 1 officer is out on long-term disability) in Tredyffrin’s Police Department.  The supervisors approved the hiring of 2 officers in the 2013 budget so that would bring the officer count up to 42. Although 42 officers are still below the minimum required by ICMA’s study, and below Giaimo’s requested amount of 47 officers, it was my opinion that 42 officers would be a good start to re-staffing the Police Department.

The consultant’s took the opportunity last night to clarify their report, stating that Tredyffrin Township Police Department is “quite lean relative to other departments of this size”.  Supervisor DiBuonaventuro reminded the Board that three years ago, there were 51 officers in the Police Department and encouraged the reinstatement to 47 officers.   Taking the opposing view, Supervisor Heaberg’s approach was to recommend ‘less is more’, believing that a lower crime rate indicates a lesser police requirement.

There was discussion as to ways the Police Department could decrease costs beyond adjusting individual shift coverage, which is included in the collective bargaining agreement.  Supervisor Kichline mentioned that some municipalities are utilizing non-sworn employees for code enforcement, which would reduce costs. Enhanced penalties for chronic false alarm offenders was another way to reduce Police Department expense that was discussed.  The problem is that an officer cannot determine if it is a call is a false alarm until after investigating.

When the opportunity came for citizen questions, I asked the Board when they would authorize the hiring of the two officers included in the budget.  Remember, the addition of two officers still keeps the number in the Department below the minimum requirement contained in the ICMA report and below the number requested by Superintendent Giaimo.  Although the hiring of two officers is in the 2013 budget, there was not a definitive response as to when it might happen.

Kichline reiterated that the arbitration award had not favored the township and as a result, the Police Department expenses were greater.  Bill Martin, the township manager offered that the police health care plan is taking longer than expected to move to the new, less expensive plan. Citizens are asked to participate in a public meeting in March to further discussion the Police Department staffing.

Bottom line, there was no authorization from the supervisors to Superintendent Giaimo for the hiring of the two police officers.  And if last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting is any indication, I don’t expect that authorization to happen anytime soon.

Cyber-Spying Charges Against Jay Ciccarone — Judge Dismisses Case!

I learned in a telephone call today from Jay Ciccarone that President Judge James MacElree, Court of Common Pleas of Chester County has dismissed his case.  If you recall, Ciccarone’s former wife, Suzy Pratowski, accused Ciccarone of cyber spying.  Ciccarone was arrrested in September 2011 and charged with spying on Prawtoski.  At the time of Ciccarone’s arrest, Tredyffrin supervisor John DiBuonaventuro was dating Pratowski.

There will certainly be much more to come on this story in the days to come but I asked Jay for a comment upon hearing the news.  Jay’s response –

My family and I are glad and relieved that Judge MacElree has dismissed the case that has been pending against me for more than 16 months. The arrest, charges and publicity has been a great burden on me personally and professionally and I am looking forward to moving past this ordeal. I only hope that the dismissal of these charges receives as much attention as my arrest did.

Jay had maintained his innocence throughout this ordeal … today there is vindication.

No Second Term for DiBuonaventuro as Tredyffrin’s Vice Chair

Attending the organizational meeting of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors last night, all I can say is, “What a difference a year makes!” 

Last year with only two years of service as a supervisor (and neither as a vice chair) Michelle Kichline was chosen by her fellow supervisors as chair of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors.  Historically, this leadership position would have gone to the most senior serving member of the Board, John DiBuonaventuro.  Instead, DiBuonaventuro was named second in command, ‘vice chair’, under Kichline, for 2012.

At last night’s 2013 organizational meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Kichline received a vote of confidence from her fellow Board members for a second term as chair.  Then came the vice chair announcement. In what appeared to be a vague cover story, Kichline explained that supervisor DiBuonaventuro had removed his name from consideration as vice chair.  She stated that for the next 2 months, DiBuonaventuro will be attending a canine training certification program and he did not think he had the time for the position.

The position of vice chair on the Board of Supervisors is for the most part ceremonial – I attended every 2012 BOS meeting, and to my knowledge Vice Chair DiBuonaventuro was never ‘acting chair’ in Kichline’s absence. DiBuonaventuro does not have time to serve in the ceremonial position of vice chair on the Board of Supervisors but he does have the time to serve as supervisor.  Interesting.

The supervisors themselves decide the choice of who serves in the leadership roles of chair and vice chair.  With a unanimous vote, Mike Heaberg was selected vice chair for 2013.

2012 proved to be a challenging year for Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors and some of their decisions not always popular:

  • C1 zoning ordinance change to permit assisted living (Duffy property in the Daylesford community)
  • 2 Tredyffrin police missing a criminal District Court hearing (due to clerical error)
  • Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District (Richter property in the Glenhardie neighborhood)
  • Township Manager Mimi Gleason’s resignation and her township consulting contract
  • $49K Police Department consultant’s study
  • Costly arbitration of Police-township collective bargaining agreement
  • $40 Million unfunded retirement liability
  • DiBuonaventuro’s controversial personal letter using township resources which appeared on the township website, resulting in a township ‘communication policy’

Tredyffrin Pays $83K for Police Contract Arbitration, or … was it really $133K?

The Board of Supervisors and the School Board have their first meetings of the New Year this week.  As is often the case, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting conflicts with the TESD Board meeting. Scheduled for Monday night is both the Board of Supervisor’s organizational and regular meeting at the township building and the T/E School Board will hold a special school board meeting to consider the 2013-14 budget at the T/E Administration Building.  Unfortunately, both meetings are at the same time – 7:30 PM.

The Board of Supervisor’s organizational meeting includes the adoption of the meeting schedule for the various township boards and commissions, naming of emergency service providers, adoption of township fee schedule, legal and accounting reviews, etc.

One of the interesting aspects of the organizational meeting each year is the naming of the Chair and Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors.  The seven Board members nominate and vote on these positions.  Historically, these positions go to the longest-serving members on the Board.  However, in 2012, that tradition shifted with the naming of Michelle Kichline as Chair. Kichline had only served 2 years as supervisor and neither as a Vice Chair, but received the unanimous support of her fellow board members for the chair position.  Having served longer than Kichline, many had expected John DiBuonaventuro to receive the 2012 nod for Chair but instead he served as Vice Chair. The Board of Supervisors saw their share of controversy in 2012, so it will be curious to see if Michelle receives another vote of confidence to continue as Chair and JD to continue as Vice Chair.

After the ceremonious organizational meeting, there is a regular supervisors meeting, including a Public Hearing to “consider and enact an ordinance of the Township of Tredyffrin, Chester County, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, fixing rates of taxation for the year 2013.”  We learned at the last BOS meeting in December that the township tax increase is set at 3.1%, down from the 5.5% originally forecast.

Since the December 17th supervisors meeting, we have learned of the Act 111 Arbitration Award issued for the collective bargaining agreement between the township and the police union. Much has been written about the agreement on Community Matters with many comments. If you are interested in details of the 4-year contract (2012-15), I would suggest you review posts from late December.  Once the arbitration award was announced, I submitted a right-to-know request for a complete accounting of the arbitration related expenses paid by the township.  It should be noted that this is the second police contract in a row that has gone directly to arbitration by the township.  In both instances, the impartial arbitrator came down on the side of the police union in regards to the post-retirement benefits. We know that retirement benefits , including pensions and healthcare, were major contributors to the long-standing debate between the two sides.

According to township manager Bill Martin, the arbitration costs to the township (taxpayers) re the police contract is as follows – Michael Zobrak, impartial arbitrator $14,136.46 and township arbitrators John McLaughlin, Patrick Harvey, Brian Pinheiro, etc. billed 273 hours for $69,337.50.  If my math is correct, the taxpayers paid $83,473.96 for the arbitration of the police contract.

Below are the details that Bill Martin sent for the township arbitrator costs.  John McLaughlin, Patrick Harvey and Brian Pinheiro are all partners in the Philadelphia law firm of Ballard Spahr.  The law firm billed the township 273 hours for a total of $69,337.50 which equates to $254/hr on the average.  On April 3, 2012 there are 100+ hours billed to the township under the name, ‘PFM’ — I am clueless as to what that means but I will contact the township manager for clarification.

I am struggling to understand these billable hours from Ballard Spahr.  It was my understanding that there was little (if any?) movement from the township’s initial position going into the arbitration process.  If that is the case, how is it that the total number of hours in 2012 (setting aside the hours from 2011) are so substantially higher than the total billable hours of  Michael Zobrak, the impartial arbitrator.

Something else I should point out is that on my right-to-know request in which I asked for ‘costs to date’ was dated January 1, 2013 and Martin’s response was dated January 4th. If you look at the last billing date from Ballard Spahr (below) it was back on Oct. 18, over 2 months prior to the signing of the arbitration agreement on December 23, 2012. It stands to reason that there are additional billable hours yet to be received from Ballard Spahr for those 2+ months, including the review of the arbitration award before its release.  I would maintain that the township has not seen the end of the costs — $83K may not be the entire costs.

TT Arbitrator Costs

I would suggest that we should also add the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) police department consulting fee of $49K to the total cost of the police contract negotiations.  Much of ICMA’s report was boilerplate language and their specific, cost-savings suggestions would require collective bargaining changes.  The way I see it, the township has already spent approximately $133K trying to lower police department expenses.  Based on the arbitration award, we know that the police department retained most of their prior contract benefits.

What bearing is the Act 111 arbitration award going to have on the township’s 2013 budget?  The supervisors and the finance director Tim Klarich did not have the benefit of a crystal ball in regards to the arbitration award when they calculated the 2013 budget. In addition, we still have the issue that there were 47 uniformed police in the 2012 township budget and the 2013 budget has the number reduced to 42.  The 42 uniformed police officers is two more officers than are currently in the department.  Now that the police contract is settled, will the supervisors OK the hiring of those two additional officers?

3.1% Tax Increase in Tredyffrin Township; Cuts to Police Department

As a taxpayer and an audience member at last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, I expected to have a copy of the final 2013 budget prior to the vote.  According to BOS Chair Michelle Kichline and Township Manager Bill Martin, they were working on the final budget until the last minutes and ran out of time to have copies available.

The proposed budget for 2013 had indicated a 5.5% tax increase – the final version brought the tax increase down to 3.1%.  Without a copy of the revised budget, it was difficult to know where the changes had occurred.  The Finance Director Tim Klarich explained that differences from the proposed to final budget was due to a variety of adjustments.  Martin ran through the changes quickly, making it hard to follow without a copy of the budget.  One adjustment in the 2013 budget has the elimination of one full-time library position. It was offered that the changes in the final budget were minor from the proposed budget – if they were ‘minor’, then I really do not understand why copies of the changes could not have been available.

Prior to casting their vote, each supervisor offered a statement. Mike Heaberg, Phil Donohue, Michelle Kichline and Kristen Mayock voted in favor of the budget with the tax increase, explaining that it was fiscally responsible.  Although the average increase to taxpayers in the 2013 budget, according to Kichline, is about $16, EJ Richter stated the increase would be $35 and would not vote for the budget with a tax increase.  Paul Olson also voted against the budget, citing the tax increase.  John DiBuonaventuro’s vote against the budget but his reason was specific to the decreased staffing of the police department.

Tredyffrin Township Police Department currently has 40 uniformed police officers, although there were 47 officers listed in the 2012 budget.  The police operations study by ICMA ($49K consulting contract) indicated a minimum of 43 uniformed officers were required maintain the safety of the community.  At the December 3 BOS meeting, Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo had requested that the Board consider reinstating ‘47’ officers in the 2013 budget.  However, there are only 42 uniformed officers listed in the 2013 budget.

Again, I have to ask, what was the value of the $49K consulting study?  The most important element of the report would be how many officers are required to maintain safety in the community.  According to the consultants report the absolute minimum is 43 uniformed officers to maintain current safety levels – actually the 43 number assumed scheduling changes.  Without the scheduling changes, the consultants recommended 45 uniformed officers.

Bottom line, why spend $49K to have consultants do a study if you are not going to use the results?  How much more per taxpayer would it cost to add a few more police?  If the average tax increase is $16 for 2013, I think most of us would gladly pay a few more dollars to maintain the level of safety.  In light of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, the last area of the budget that needs to be cut is the police department. I am all for being fiscally responsible, but the police department needs to be adequately staff.  To be clear, the 2013 township budget cuts police staffing from 47 uniformed police officers to 42 officers.  And just think, it wasn’t that long ago that Tredyffrin Township had 50+ uniformed officers!

It should also be noted that those two additional uniformed police officers in the 2013 budget will not be hired until there is a contract settlement between the township and the police union.  As of now, the arbitration continues without any indication of a settlement date!

The Board of Supervisors passed the 2013 township budget, 4-3 with a 3.1% tax increase (and a decrease in the number of uniformed police officers.)

Will Tredyffrin Township’s Proposed 2013 Budget increase or decrease level of staffing in Police Department?

The consulting firm, International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has completed their operations review and data analysis of the Police Department; click here to read the detailed 92-page report.  The agenda for Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting includes a presentation of the ICMA Police Operations Report.

As reference, the Board of Supervisors approved this $49K police operations study in July.   Before approving the study, there was discussion from some of the supervisors about whether the money would be better spent on bringing the police officer staffing up to the authorized level of 47 (currently at 41) or using the money for Police Department equipment.

Will the ICMA report influence the proposed 2013 preliminary budget or have a bearing on the ongoing police contract arbitration? Probably the most important question that many of us wanted answered by the consultant’s study – How many police officers are required in Tredyffrin Township to provide adequate safety for the residents? Did the study suggest increasing the department beyond the authorized level of 47 or would the recommendation be to decrease the staffing level?  

The ICMA police operations study concludes that a minimum of two additional police officers needed to be immediately hired and assigned to patrol.  According to the report, the consultants were informed that two officers have been authorized, increasing the level to 43 police officers.

The ICMA report recommends the Police Department take immediate steps to review the current shift schedule and consider the alternative 10-hour and 40-minute shift schedule, see ‘Patrol Personnel, Shifts and Shift Strength, Four-Shift Model’ on pages 79/80. According to the report, this new schedule can reduce patrol over-staffing; thus decreasing personnel requirements.  However, the report notes that changing the shift schedule may be limited by the Police Department’s collective bargaining agreement. By modifying the current schedule, ICMA suggests there would be a reduction in the department’s need for patrol personnel.

According to the report, the current shift schedule provides a “total of six overlap hours during every 24-hour period. In other words, for six hours each day, two shifts (or approximately eight patrol officers) are scheduled to be working at the same time. The data analysis portion of this report confirms this. As stated elsewhere, these hours can be used for training and other purposes, such as participation in the department’s physical fitness program. But as the data analysis indicates, this dramatic increase in manpower suggests some inefficiencies that are built directly into the shift schedule.”

ICMA claims that the alternative schedule, which uses four starting times for shifts each day instead of three, will provide for greater flexibility, “both in terms of varying start times and in aligning manpower with calls for service.” By making this change in scheduling, the report indicates a reduction in supervisory staffing requirement.  As I understand the report, if the Police Department were to move to the alternative 10-hour and 40-minute shift schedule, the standard of service to the community would be maintained with 43 officers (implying that the additional 4 authorized staffing vacancies would not be filled).  However, the report points out that if the schedule is not changed, it may require the staffing level to increase to 45. Currently the Police Department has authorized staffing for 47 officers – my read is that ICMA does not recommend filling those two additional vacancies.

The current breakdown of the 41 members* of the Police Department are as follows:

  • 1 superintendent
  • 2 lieutenants (operations and administration)
  • 8 sergeants (6 assigned to patrol, 1 detective sergeant and 1 traffic sergeant)
  • 6 detectives (1 assigned to patrol)
  • 7 corporals (6 assigned to patrol, 1 assigned to traffic)
  • 1 community policing officer
  • 16 police officers

*My understanding from reading the report is that an additional two police officers has been approved and these officers will be assigned to patrol, bringing the total to 43 officers. The additional two officers will help reduce the overtime expenditures.

It makes sense that the reduction in Police Department staffing directly affects overtime expenses. With vacancies of six police officers (47 authorized down to 41), the report provides overtime data that underscores the additional overtime expense. The Police Department’s overtime costs in 2009: $55,175; 2010:  $66,231; 2011: $144,037 and up to August 15, 2012: $138,914.  Overtime expenditures in the first 8 months of 2012 were nearly as much as all of 2011 and clearly the overtime costs will continue to rise until the end of the year.

Will the recommendations contained in ICMA’s study have any effect on the township’s proposed 2013 preliminary budget? In reviewing the proposed 2013 budget, the actual level of police staffing is not obvious.  Does the proposed 2013 budget allow the Police Department to increase staffing to its authorized level of 47?  We should remember that the authorized level of 47 police officers is actually a decrease from previous years — at some point in the past, the Police Department had 50+ officers.

As it now stands, the proposed 2013 preliminary budget includes a 5.5% tax increase with the $40M unfunded medical liability dark cloud hanging over the township. In addition, the ‘elephant in the room’ is the ongoing contract negotiations between the township and the police union, Tredyffrin Township Police Association (TTPA). Since January 2012, the contract between TTPA and Tredyffrin Township has been in arbitration; the 3-year police contract expired the end of 2011.  The process has been held captive for nearly a year, waiting for a ruling from independent arbitrator, Michael Zobrak.

Because of the comments on my post, “Lifetime healthcare benefits of Tredyffrin Township Police Association result in $40M unfunded liability – What’s the solution?“, I filed a ‘right-to-know’ request with the township.   I received copies of TTPA 2004 and 2009-11 contracts.  Until a new contract is signed, the Police Department continues to work to their last contract, 2009-11.  The  starting point for the collective bargaining agreement is with the 2009-11 contract; therefore, my comments below are taken from that contract. (Click here to review TTPA-Tredyffrin Township 2009-11 contract).

 Without a copy of the police contract, there was conflicting information and questions, much having to do with the medical coverage of retired police officers. Here are the facts according to the 2009-11 contract:

  • For officers (and their spouses/dependents) hired prior to 1/1/99 who retire after 15 years of service, medical coverage is provided without cost, except for co-pays and deductibles.
  • For officers (and their spouses/dependents) hired after 1/1/99, who retire after 20 years of service, the township shall pay the premiums for medical coverage in the amount of 4% multiplied by the officer’s years of service. An example given: 4% x 20 years of credited service = 80% premium payment.

According to the 2009-11 contract, if an officer retired on or after 1/1/2009, the township may coordinate its obligation to provide post-retirement medical coverage with available Medicare coverage.  “For those persons eligible for Medicare, the township shall reimburse them for any cost associated with acquiring Medicare, including the cost of Plan B coverage. In addition to being responsible for all costs associated with Medicare coverage, the township shall purchase supplement insurance and the township shall self-insure such as is necessary to provide the retired officer and spouse with the same level of insurance coverage they enjoyed before coverage was coordinated with Medicare.” 

It was my understanding from the budget meeting, that retired police officers received lifetime health care benefits; however that point was debated on Community Matters.  Reading further in the contract, it states that, “… Officers who retired prior to 1/1/09, as well as their spouses and eligible dependents, shall be permanently vested with, and continue to enjoy, the same level of healthcare benefits being provided for them by the Township as of 12/31/2008 at no cost, except for co-payments and deductibles then in effect.”

The missing link in the discussion was the 1/1/2009 date and whether the police officer retired before or after that date determines the medical coverage.  Until I read the contract, I did not know the requirement for retirement was 15 years of service before 1/1/99; after that date, it became 20 years of service.  I had incorrectly assumed that retirement benefits required 25 years of service.

For those police officers currently employed by the township, the township pays the entire medical premium for police officers, including spouse and children, with officers paying co-pays and deductibles.  Benefits also include dental and vision coverage.

Another question previously raised was the longevity bonus pay of the police officers and how it was calculated.  According to the contract, the bonus is computed as follows:

  • After 4 years of service              2% of Basic Yearly Salary
  • After 8 years of service              4% of Basic Yearly Salary
  • After 12 years of service            6% of Basic Yearly Salary
  • After 16 years of service            8% of Basic Yearly Salary
  • After 20 years of service            10% of Basic Yearly Salary

The biggest roadblock in collective bargaining contract disputes these days is health care benefits (in addition to salaries). Certainly health care benefits were an important component in the recently settled T/E teacher contract negotiations.  Appreciating the current economic environment, the teachers agreed that their generous healthcare plan of the past was no longer possible, changes were made in their teacher’s contract accordingly.   At present, there are 52 retired police officers and their families that are receiving retirement medical benefits.  According to the 2009-11 contract, it appears that police officers retiring before 1/1/2009 are not required to  go on Medicare when eligible.  It would be interesting to know how many of the retired 52 officers have opted to go on Medicare benefits (even those not required to do so) when they became eligible.

As the T/E School District’s contract with the teachers union is a public document so is the Tredyffrin Township Police Association contract with the township.  Some in the community have voiced concern with residents speculating about the contents of the police contact.  I am of the opinion that as the T/E School Board has the TTEA contract available on their website, www.tesd.net, the township should likewise provide the TTPA contract on the website.   Providing the public documents to the residents lessons the confusion and misinformation that comes about by not know the facts.

I look forward to your comments on ICMA’s report reviewing the Police Department and the 2009-11 agreement between TTPA and the township. Monday, December 3 Board of Supervisors meeting includes the proposed 2013 preliminary budget and the ICMA police operations report on the agenda.

Under New Communication Policy, John DiBuonaventuro’s Letter Would be Approved for Website

I have now had an opportunity to review the Communication Policy which was passed by the Board of Supervisors on November 19.  The policy was in response to Supervisors John DiBuonaventuro’s ‘letter to the citizens’ of September 5 which appeared on township letterhead on the township website.  It remains unclear as to which supervisors ‘saw’  the letter before it went on the township website.  You may recall that Mimi Gleason, former township manager, responded to my inquiry stating that she approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter along with the township solicitor Vince Donohue and BOS chair Michelle Kichline.  Beyond Gleason, Donohue and supervisors Kichline and DiBuonaventuro, it is unclear as to what any of the other supervisors knew.  Although privately some of the supervisors denied knowing anything about DiBuonaventuro’s letter, nothing was ever said publicly.

The communication policy is an attempt to define social media responsibilities in the township, and lists the primary communicators as township manager, police chief and chair of the Board of Supervisors.  The stated purpose of the communication is:

The purpose of this policy is to establish guidelines as to how a member or group of members of Tredyffrin Township’s institutions should communicate with the public. In this era of a multitude of vehicles for disseminating information, the Township has determined that it should adopt a communications policy that will help residents clearly distinguish the communications of an individual from those of one of the Township’s institutions. The purpose of this is not to reduce open dialog but to provide reasonable guidance to Township officials on how to communicate with the Public.

In regard to the township website, the communication policy states:

The Township web site (www.tredyffrin.org) provides an on-going method of communication with the public. The Township Manager or designated member of Township staff shall be responsible for maintaining the web site and for coordination of updates to the web site. All content must be approved by the Township Manager. Supervisors may use the website to communicate with the public on Township issues. Due to implied endorsement nature of the site, any Supervisors using the Township website must be clear so as to identify of the author(s) and supporters of the content posted.

The policy makes it clear that individual supervisors can use the website as long as they identify they are acting independently.  The only approval required for the use of the township website is from the township manager. Since the township manager is vetted and hired by the Board of Supervisors, my guess is that approval process would be fairly easy.  There is no description of what constitutes ‘township issues’ — no guidelines or definition provided in the policy.  The new communication policy leaves ‘township issues’ completely open to interpretation.

What is obvious is that the communication policy is an attempt to separate the actions of supervisors from each other.  In other words, the policy implies that DiBuonaventuro (or any of the other 6 supervisors) can continue to write their ‘letters’ on the township website, but the only difference is that the public is not to assume he/she represents the voice of the rest of the board.

The communication policy makes no reference to township resources (staff time, legal review by solicitor, etc.) by individual supervisors who may choose to use the website for their personal communications.  Apparently, the costs of the personal communications by individual supervisors to be absorbed by taxpayer dollars, under the guise of ‘township issues’.

At September’s Board of Supervisors meeting, former T/E School Board member and resident Andrea Felkins weighed in on supervisor communications to the public, stating,

” … This is about the need for a policy that would dictate the circumstances that would permit or deny a member of this board to use Board letterhead and post a personal letter.  I cannot envision any circumstance that would have allowed this personal and angry tirade to be used in this fashion. … So, if you do not have a policy that dictates the use of your website that would have governed this, then I encourage you to develop one.  We should not permit the use of taxpayer funded and limited access sites to vent frustrations and exorcise your demons. There is no rebuttal to any township distribution.   And I think we all know that the personal attack on Pattye Benson, claiming that she is bent on damaging the township, as well as the childish reference to her “absolute defeat” in an election went well beyond the bounds of civility.  Mr. D, your letter expressed indignation, and you were clearly upset, but it turned into a bullying exercise, and intimidated anyone who might challenge you in the future.

Clearly, I believe there was a misuse of the township resources, township website and township letterhead with DiBuonaventuro’s letter of September 5.  The problem with this new communication policy, is that it offers no guidelines or guarantee to the public that this similar situation cannot occur over and over again.

Without parameters as to what constitutes ‘township issues’ or any approval oversight by the Board of Supervisors for the use of the website by individual supervisors, how is future abuse to be avoided?

Looking at various municipal communication policies, I found Lower Merion Township’s website policy to be of interest, representing a clear and concise approach to usage.  Their policy is  specific as to what constitutes township business and that the objective of the township website is to inform the public.  A website policy such as Lower Merion’s would help Tredyffrin Township to avoid  repeating mistakes in the future.  As it now stands, there is nothing in Tredyffrin’s new communication policy to avoid a repeat performance by our Board of Supervisors.

Here is Lower Merion’s website policy:

Lower Merion Township Web Site Operating Policy

Purpose

The purpose of the Township Web Site is to provide information to the public about government and government-related community programs, activities, services, events, and issues. The Township Web Site will also provide links to related areas that will assist the public in learning more about the community of Lower Merion Township. This 24 hour/day information will originate at and be the responsibility of the Township of Lower Merion.

Objectives

  1. To provide timely public information about government meetings, services, programs and events.
  2. To provide information which will enable the residents of Lower Merion to have more effective access to local government.
  3. To educate residents about government procedures and processes.
  4. To provide residents with information on various Township functions and departments.
  5. To expand community awareness of the decision-making processes of local government.
  6. To provide accurate, up-to-date information to residents during emergencies.
  7. To assist Township departments in the delivery of services, programs and information.
  8. To provide access (via hyperlinks) to information concerning:
    • historical, cultural and educational institutions (including the Lower Merion School District)
    • economic development and opportunities within the Township as well as facts about the Township’s numerous business districts
    • other organizations which provide services to the citizens of the Township (e.g., public transportation, healthcare, etc.)

Content

The web site will include information directly supporting the stated objectives which benefit the public. Examples include a welcome from the President of the Board of Commissioners and the Township Manager, the President of the Board of Commissioners Vision for the Township, biographies of each Commissioner, schedule of public meetings of Boards and Commissions, frequently asked questions, history, etc.

Tredyffrin Township Website Policy … Rank Hath Its Privileges

As of last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Tredyffrin Township supervisors approved a communication policy that included the use of the government’s website by the supervisors.  Although I was told earlier in the day by the township solicitor Vince Donohue that the meeting agenda would be changed to include this ‘vote’, no such change appeared on the agenda, leaving me to believe the discussion would occur at some future date.  The resolution for a communication policy was not listed on the agenda however; it was included in the meeting. According to Donohue, a resolution does not take advance advertisement.

Michelle Kichline read the resolution for the communication policy with no comment from any of the supervisors. You will have to watch the BOS meeting or wait to see if the meeting minutes include the policy, as the resolution was not available in a printed format at the meeting. The vote to approve the policy was unanimous. Going forward the policy for the use of the website is, with approval from the township manager and township solicitor, that supervisors are permitted to use the website for ‘township business’ in communicating with residents.  However, the communique must explicitly state which supervisor(s), whether the entire board, a subset or an individual are responsible for the message.

Individual supervisors can independently use the website for whatever he or she believes constitutes ‘township business’.  Although I questioned that, without oversight or a majority vote from the other supervisors, John DiBuonaventuro’s letter of September 5 or a similar personal diatribe could be repeated, it changed nothing. Based on recent history, resident, Cheryl Bittner asked that a definition of ‘township business’ be included in the communication policy.  That was not deemed necessary – which seemed to suggest that supervisors know what constitutes township business.

 In essence, there is absolutely nothing to stop DiBuonaventuro or any of the other six supervisors from writing opinion letters on the township website whenever they disagree with residents, the press or comments on a blog. They just need the approval from the solicitor and township manager.  Scary proposition – given that the township solicitor and township manager approved DiBuonaventuro’s September 5 letter as ‘township business’.  The township’s communication policy has now given all seven supervisors a green light to use the township website as they wish – just call it ‘township business’ and it becomes a personal tool to communicate your message.

What’s the saying; “rank hath its privileges” … guess the use of the township website is a new perk if you are an elected official in Tredyffrin Township.

Tredyffrin Township Website Policy — Vote TONIGHT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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