John DiBuonaventuro

Re Personal Letter on Government Website — Did Tredyffrin Supervisor DiBuonaventuro receive approval from his fellow supervisors?

Did John DiBuonaventuro actually have approval from fellow supervisors before using government resources and government letterhead to post his personal letter of September 5 on the government’s website?  The answer to that question is not entirely clear, and the answer also depends on whom you ask.

As the resident targeted in DiBuonaventuro’s diatribe to the citizens of Tredyffrin Township, I was very interested to read the Main Line Media News article, “Majority of Supervisors may not have approved DiBuonaventuro letter posted to website”.  In the article, Rich Llgenfritz explains that the newspaper filed an open records request with Tredyffrin Township asking for all information pertaining to DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the township website.  However, it is interesting that MLMN only received one record; an email from DiBuonaventuro to Patricia Hoffman, executive secretary for Tredyffrin Township.

I am grateful to Llgenfritz and Main Line Media News for their continued interest in this matter.  If you have followed Community Matters since DiBuonaventuro’s September 5 letter to the citizens appeared on the Tredyffrin Township website, you have read the September 7 email from former Township Manager Mimi Gleason to me. Following the email, there was a conference call on September 14 from Gleason and Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo, with no stated purpose except to continue to harass. (Click here for Community Matters post of September 18 which includes my personal statement and video of the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting) As a result of DiBuonaventuro’s letter, Gleason’s email and telephone call, I sought legal counsel with attorney Sam Stretton.

One of several troubling unanswered questions in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s personal use of the township website, is did he act alone?  Or, … was there discussion (approval) from the other members of the Board of Supervisors.  In her response to my question on this matter, Gleason stated the following in her email dated September 7:

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

Gleason’s email states that the use of the government’s website by DiBuonaventuro carried with it the “implicit endorsement of the Township”.  She further states that the Chairman [Kichline] and the Township Solicitor [Vince Donohue] agreed the letter was appropriate for the website.  But did Kichline really see the actual letter?  During the conference call with Gleason and Giaimo, Gleason maintained that Kichline had seen the actual letter.  I argued  with Gleason that she was incorrect … that Kichline had personally told me that she did not see the actual letter but that she gave her OK to DiBuonaventuro verbally for the letter on the website, as long as the solicitor Vince Donohue had read and approved it.

Subsequent to DiBuonaventuro’s letter going on the website, there has been no public statement from the other 6 supervisors on this matter, except by Kichline who said that the Board would work on a website policy.  Why the silence from the other supervisors?  Privately, some of the supervisors have told citizens that they never saw the letter and some have stated that they would not have approved of the letter on the government’s website.  Why don’t the supervisors own these opinions in public?  If I was being accused of harming the First Amendment rights of a citizen   (especially one that I was elected to serve) and had not approved (or even seen) the letter in the first place, I certainly would not remain silent.  Are these other supervisors afraid of doing what’s right or are they perhaps afraid of retaliation from DiBuonaventuro … or, the political party they all represent?  Where’s the independent thought?

Going back to Llgenfritz’s MLMN article – the only piece of communication that was provided through the Open Records request, in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the website, is the following brief email from DiBuonaventuro to Pat Hoffman, executive secretary for the township:

 “Pat, this is a confidential email. This letter has been approved by Michelle and Vince. Please put it on the township letterhead and make three copies for Kristen [Mayock], Michelle and I to review when we get in this morning. We will give you distribution directions once a final review is done. Thanks and see you around 8 or when you get in. JD.  [John DiBuonaventuro]

This email clearly states that the Michelle Kichline, BOS chair approved the letter, but did she?  If Kichline approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter, then that would mean that she lied to me.  And I don’t believe that she lied.  So which is it?

Another interesting thing to note on this email is that there was a private meeting of 3 supervisors – DiBuonaventuro, Kristen Mayock and Kichline.  Why was Mayock involved but none of the other supervisors?  As chair of the BOS, I understand the rationale behind Kichline attending the meeting but it is unclear if she actually attended or not.  Mayock and Kichline are the two attorneys on the Board – was that the reason behind their request to attend this meeting?  And it should also be noted that DiBuonaventuro states in this email, that he has approval from the solicitor Vince Donohue for the letter on the website. Everyone seems to be in agreement that Donohue saw and approved the letter – DiBuonaventuro, Kichline and Gleason all state that Donohue approved the letter.  Interesting that this short email is all that is contained in the files in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter.  Just interesting.

Last Friday I posted the letter (click here to read) that my attorney Sam Stetton sent to members of the Board of Supervisors in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s personal letter on government letterhead on the government website.  As follow-up to my posting Stretton’s letter, Llgenfriz had a phone interview with Vince Donohue, the township solicitor.  It was alarming to me to see Donohue discuss the legal situation between myself and the township in the local newspaper.  He furthered stated that he had sent a response to Stretton and that it would be up to me whether or not I made it public.

At last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, strangely there were three of the seven supervisors missing.  I do not think I have ever been to a BOS meeting where two supervisors were missing, let alone three!  Missing supervisors were Phil Donohue (stated reason for the absence was still recovering from surgery), Chair Michelle Kichline and Vice Chair John DiBuonaventuro — the stated reason for their absence was ‘personal’.

Supervisor Mike Heaberg read a statement in regards to the website policy which suggested that there would be a policy presented at the November 19 Board of Supervisors meeting.  It was unclear whether or not the public would be permitted input into the website policy.  Public input could prove important when you read the response from the township solicitor Vince Donohue to my attorney Sam Stretton below:

November 2, 2012

Samuel C. Stretton, Esquire
301 South High Street
PO Box 3231
West Chester, PA 19381
Re: Tredyffrin Township

The Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors is in receipt of your letter dated October 25, 2012.

As an initial observation, I read Supervisor DiBuonaventuro’s letter as a reaction in his official capacity as a Supervisor to Ms. Benson’s blog entries regarding, primarily, Township issues.  This Board does not quash public discussion about Township matters. To the contrary, this Board’s emphasis on transparency and encouragement of public input is evident in all of the initiatives it undertakes.  As to Ms. Benson specifically, I would point out that she actively continues to maintain her blog and participates during the public input portion of the agenda at virtually every Township meeting without censure or objection. Accordingly, neither the contents of the letter nor its posting on the Township website constitute an attempt to suppress, or a breach of, Ms. Benson’s First Amendment rights.

Second, it is important to note that the Board of Supervisors, as an entity, never endorsed nor rejected Supervisor DiBuonaventuro’s letter that was posted on the website.  Accordingly, the Board believes that the issue involving the letter is one between Ms. Benson and Mr. DiBuonaventuro as an individual supervisor.

Nonetheless, this incident has highlighted the need for a policy governing use of the Township website and other Township-managed social media outlets as a means of communication by the Board and by each Supervisor (or group thereof). All seven members of the Board are entirely supportive of the initiative to enact such a policy, which has been under way since mid-September. It was discussed at the last meeting of the Board by chair Kichline.

The primary purposes of the policy will be threefold. First, it will document what the Supervisors already practice: that communications on the Township website, letterhead or other Township-managed social media outlets shall pertain to Township issues.  Second, the policy will ensure that the reader is clear about the source of the communication – i.e., whether the source is an individual Supervisor, the Board as an entity, a subset of Supervisors, etc. Third, the policy will delegate certain communication responsibilities to certain senior Township staff, depending on the nature of the content of the communication (Township Manager, Superintendent of Police, etc.). This policy will cover not only the website, but also Township letterhead and other Township-sponsored social media outlets. The purpose of the policy is not, however, to restrict any Supervisor’s ability to communicate with Township residents on matters each deems appropriate.

Crafting the right policy is not a task to be rushed. The Board is diligently pursuing the finalization of this policy, but intends to be thoughtful in this ongoing process to ensure that the resulting policy addresses existing needs and avoids unintended consequences. The Board intends to complete this process soon and updates will be provided at each Board meeting until it is enacted.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss. Thank you,

Very Truly Yours,

Vince T. Donohue
Lamb McErlane, PC

Several  things are interesting to note in Donohue’s response.  He speaks of the transparency of the Board of Supervisors.  Based on the issue of DiBuonaventuro’s letter alone, I’d suggest that this Board if far from transparent.  Clearly, we still don’t know who saw the letter or who approved it.  Donohue states that the Board never endorsed nor rejected DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the website, yet Mimi Gleason’s email to me clearly stated that the use of the township website for DiBuonaventuro’s letter, “carried with it the implicit endorsement of the Township”.

Donohue is saying one thing, Gleason is saying another, and I would suggest thirdly, that by using the government letterhead, which has all members of the Board of Supervisors listed looks like compliance to me.  Obviously, if during the last 2 months, any of the other six supervisors had chosen to ‘distance’ themselves from DiBuonaventuro and the letter, that would be different … the problem is that they all “stood by their man”.

Nowhere in the letter does Donohue address the intimidation tactics used in DiBuonaventuro’s letter or Gleason’s email and phone calls towards me.  Donohue however suggests that the Board believes this is a personal matter between DiBuonaventuro and me – two problems with that logic.  First, DiBuonaventuro does not limit his personal attacks to just me, he also goes after the First Amendment rights of the press, specifically Main Line Media News.  Second, if Donohue and the other supervisors view this as some kind of personal matter that DiBuonaventuro has with me and Community Matters, what business does a personal matter have on government letterhead and government website.   How can Donohue claim the contents of DiBuonaventuro’s letter is Township business when the tirade includes my 2009 supervisor race?

Now look at what Donohue claims the township website policy will include –

  1. Document the communications on the Township website, letterhead, social media outlets that pertain to Township issues.
  2. Ensure that the reader is clear about the source of the communication – whether an individual supervisor, the entire board or some subset
  3. Delegate certain communication to Township Manager, Police Superintendent, etc.

Then you have this sentence in Donohue’s letter, “ … The purpose of the policy is not, however, to restrict any Supervisor’s ability to communicate with Township residents on matters each deems appropriate.”  The way I read it, is DiBuonaventuro (or any other supervisor) gets carte blanche to continue to use government website as their personal ‘bully pulpit’ whenever the mood strikes.  Looks like to me, that if you are a supervisor all you need do is label your communication  to the public ‘Township business’ and the website is yours to use.  I guess the policy needs to protect the rights of DiBuonaventuro to use government resources whenever he feels threatened by the local news media or Community Matters.  As a citizen of Tredyffrin Township, I certainly will not find this website acceptable if approved by the Board of Supervisors.

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Tredyffrin’s Solicitor Vince Donohue claims that government does not seek to suppress public comment … Really?

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.  According to 65 Pa.C.S.A. § 708(a); Sunshine Act, Section 8(a), there are certain discussions that can take place in an executive session where the public is excluded. At the onset of every Board of Supervisors meeting, Michelle Kichline, in her capacity as chair, makes a statement that the Board met prior to the meeting in executive session to discuss legal and personnel matters.  Under the provisions of the PA Sunshine Act, those township matters pertaining to personnel or legal matters are not discussed publicly   In fact, if during the ‘New Matters – Citizens’  section of the Board of Supervisors meeting, a resident asks a question that falls into the legal or personnel category, either a Board member of the township solicitor quickly points out that they cannot respond to the question.  Over years of attending supervisors meeting, I can attest that the solicitor does not permit the supervisors to respond to citizen questions that fall into personnel or legal areas.

Understanding the provisions of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, it was surprising to read that Tredyffrin Township’s solicitor Vince Donohue had a public response on a legal matter in Main Line Media News article, ”Community Matters blogger Pattye Benson calls for Tredyffrin Township to adopt policy regarding the use of its website” written by Richard Llgenfritz.

If you recall Llgenfritz wrote the story, “Tredyffrin zoning hearing board member not guilty after police are a no-show at her trial in late August.  His article, in addition to TE Patch, Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily Local articles, blog posts on Chester County Ramblings and telephone and email inquiries from residents, were the reasons that I conducted my mini-research investigation.

As part of my research on the police matter, I spoke with Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors chair Michelle Kichline, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo and District Judge Tom Tartaglio.  For the results of my research and corresponding comments in post, “Community Matters closes the chapter on police investigation but Tredyffrin supervisor opens a new one”, click here.

Because of the newspaper articles, blog posts and related public comments on the police situation, Tredyffrin Township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro decided to write and post a personal letter dated September 5, 2012 on the township website, using township resources and township letterhead.  Although the use of government resources by an elected official is surprising, it was the fact that the other six supervisors, the township manager and the township solicitor sanctioned the behavior of DiBuonaventuro that underscored the importance for a township website policy.

This past Friday, I posted the letter from my attorney Samuel Stretton on Community Matters. Stretton’s letter was sent to the seven members of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors.  I learned in Llgenfritz MLMN article, that Stretton’s letter was forwarded to the township solicitor Vince Donohue.  No surprise as this was a legal matter and as the township solicitor, he clearly needed to be involved.  However, because this is a ‘legal matter’ (remember the PA Sunshine Act and that legal and personnel matters in the township are not publicly discussed but held for executive session discussion), I was amazed that Donohue discusses Stretton’s letter with Llgenfritz.  Gosh, I would think that Donohue should not be talking about sending a response to Stretton – isn’t this a legal matter?  And then to further throw out there that it would be up to me whether I make the letter public or not?  To my knowledge, Stretton has not received a letter and I certainly have not seen any letter from Donohue. (I will assume that Donohue’s response is ‘in the mail’).  So, I  am struggling to understand this – the supervisors are not permitted to discuss legal matters in public but it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss legal matters?  Shouldn’t the more appropriate response from Donohue to Llgenfritz have been, “… this is a legal matter, and I am not at liberty to discuss”.

However, Donohue does not stop there in his comments to the newspaper, he goes on to address some of the issues that others and I have raised – i.e. First Amendment rights.  According to Donohue,

“This township has no interest what so ever in suppressing anybody’s first amendment rights and in fact does not. All you need to do is take a look at our five six-hour public meetings that we’ve had in the last few years. All you need to do is look at the Trout Creek overlay ordinance process where we involved no fewer than 30 members of the public on working groups and commissions held six or seven public hearings even for those members of the community that didn’t like the outcome I think it’s hard to argue with the openness and the fact that the township encourages and invites public input. I think this township’s actions belie any claim that it seeks to suppress public comment positive or otherwise about township matters.”

All I can say is, wow.  Donohue approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter going on the township letterhead on the township website.  I suggest that he needs to go back and read it and then come up with a more convincing argument as to how his letter is not an attempt to silence those who dare to disagree.  DiBuonaventuro writes in his September 5 letter, “What is more important for community to realize from this example is the disturbing trend that has developed with most of the internet elements of legitimate newspapers and the tabloid formatted blogs like “Community Matters”.  Public discussion of important community matters is a ‘disturbing trend’ — whether public discussion is over the backyard fence, in the aisle of the Paoli Acme or on the Internet, it is our First Amendment right; open debate and commentary exists under the US Constitution.

In fact, before I contacted Sam Stretton, I sent DiBuonaventuro’s letter to several attorneys and journalists; individuals who do not live in the area and would not know any of the people involved.  Not one person responded that they thought the actions of our government in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter were OK.  In addition, I should add that many people used adjectives like ‘chilling’ in describing DiBuonaventuro’s attempt to suppress public discussion.

It is interesting that Donohue would point to the many meetings held over the Trout Creek ordinance (for the record, there were 7 public hearings), as somehow public comment at supervisors meetings was the same thing as DiBuonaventuro’s use of public resources, public letterhead and public website.  Certainly, there were many meetings over Trout Creek, but I wonder how many of the Glenhardie residents feel that their voices were actually heard during the process?  Donohue makes no mention of Trisha Larkin and her neighbors in the Daylesford neighborhood.  Like the Glenhardie residents, how many of the Daylesford folks think that their voices made a difference to the outcome.  The Daylesford neighbors, in addition to many residents throughout the township, were overwhelmingly opposed to the C-1 zoning change.  However, as we all saw, their voices did not matter.  Yet Donohue claims that the township “encourages and invites public input” … maybe that’s true if you happen to be developer Ed Morris or his attorney Denise Yarnoff, who now have the green light to build an assisted living facility on 1 acre on Lancaster Ave.

As a resident of Tredyffrin Township, this is all so very disheartening, including Donohue’s response to Main Line Media News.  I am amazed that it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss a legal matter of a private citizen with the newspaper — to talk about a township response that he has sent to my attorney, Sam Stretton, that I have not even seen.  Wow.

It’s like some of the rules in Tredyffrin Township only exist when they benefit our elected officials, not the citizens.

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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

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Does a Private Citizen Have Civil Rights in Tredyffrin Township?

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

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

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

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

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

To watch my BOS personal statement, click here.

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

Pattye Benson
Personal Statement
September 17, 2012

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

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

Let me share that September 15 email with you.

Dear Ms. Gleason,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Pattye Benson

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

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

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

Can we question our government?

Do we dare to have an opinion?

I believe that ALL our voices matter.

Thank you.

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Community Matters: Your Voice Matters … Except when it comes to C-1 Zoning Change!

At the Board of Supervisors meeting last night, Keene Hall was standing room only.  Although many residents attended for the public hearing for the proposed C-1 ordinance change, I was surprised at how many stayed until midnight when I had the opportunity to present my personal statement under ‘citizen new matters’.  (My statement will appear on a separate Community Matters post)

I thank all the citizens who took 4-1/2 hours of their time on  Monday night to show support and to have their voices heard on the C-1 zoning change to permit assisted living usage. Tredyffrin residents spoke out from across the township, Paoli, Berwyn, Strafford, Wayne, etc. not just the Daylesford neighbors.  Hours of public testimony and not a single resident voiced support for the proposed C-1 zoning change. Citizens stated opposition for a host of reasons … flawed process, spot zoning, preferential treatment to a developer, should be a conditional use not a by-right use, bed density, safety concerns for patients, increased demand on township’s emergency services, etc. — the list went on and on.

Township supervisors asked many questions of the developer Ed Morris and his attorney Denise Yarnoff, suggesting to the audience that they were not entirely supportive of the zoning change.  However, in the end, the questions from the supervisors did not really matter; the motion to change C-1 zoning to allow assisted living facilities passed 6-1.  The only supervisor who heard the residents’ concerns and voted accordingly, was Phil Donohue.  As the middle district supervisor, it will be interesting to see which side receives his support at the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay public hearing on October 1, when the issue surrounds his constituent’s backyards.

Unfortunately, for many residents in this township, the overwhelming Tredyffrin voices in opposition to changing the C-1 zoning was not heard by our local government,

Trisha Larkin, president of the Daylesford Neighborhood Association sent the following statement:

Dear DNA Members and Tredyffrin Residents,

A heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for taking time out of your busy lives to contribute to the cause.

Clearly, last night’s vote was shocking.  It’s a painful loss.  As a taxpayer and Tredyffrin resident, it’s shaken many of us to our cores.  The insight gleaned from the BOS’s final vote leaves me defeated, frustrated and more importantly, frightened regarding Tredyffrin’s future.  Joe and I have only lived here 4 years.  I can’t imagine how some of our decades-long Tredyffrin neighbors must feel this morning.  Heartsick is the word that springs to mind.

To the Daylesford neighbors and Non-DNA members (you know who you are) that attended countless meetings and contributed tirelessly, you’ll never know how much we appreciate you!

I’ve taken calls from 4 lawyers in the last 13 hours saying we have a great case for an appeal stating “spot zoning” pure and simple.  That may be true

In closing, perhaps we should ALL keep in mind the six supervisors that flagrantly disregarded our opposition when they run for re-election!

  • Michelle H. Kichline, Chair
  • John DiBuonaventuro, Vice Chair and OUR Daylesford/Western/3rd District Supervisor
  • Paul Olson – 1st District
  • Mike Heaberg – At Large
  • Kristen Mayock – At Large
  • Evelyn (EJ) Richter – At Large

We should note that Supervisor Phil Donahue (2nd District) was the sole supporter of the DNA.  He’s got some friends in Daylesford.

I am blessed to have met many of you for the first time via the DNA.  I certainly hope to keep in touch and please join our FACEBOOK page to keep abreast of what’s going on in the neighborhood.  We love building our network.  If you’re out walking by our home, please knock.  Join us for a cup of coffee … or better yet, a beer or a nice glass of wine!  Our treat!  :-)

You’re the best group of people!  Thanks for everything!

Kind regards,

Trisha Larkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, a few miscellaneous items I jotted down:

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

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

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

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

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1st Amendment Rights in Tredyffrin Township

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

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

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

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

Mimi,

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

I await your response.

Pattye Benson

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

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

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

Pattye,

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

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

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

Mimi

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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.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

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!

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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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Tredyffrin Township: What Price Economic Growth?

What price economic growth …

  • What is the price tag for economic development in Tredyffrin Township?
  • Is it OK to green light a land development project even when it doesn’t meet current zoning regulations?
  • Is it right for a developer and his attorney to create a zoning ordinance amendment to Tredyffrin Zoning Code to suit their needs for a particular project?
  • As a community, do we want zoning amendment changes in Tredyffrin Township without restrictions, requirements or conditional uses?
  • If you are a developer considering a project in Tredyffrin but cannot find suitable zoning, that may not be an obstacle to your plans. All you need to do is write a new ordinance, call it economic development and then watch as the plan moves forward.

This post is an update on the old Duffy catering site on Lancaster Ave. and the proposed assisted living facility.  The vacant Duffy property contains approximately 2 acres, with a 1 acre parcel zoned C-1 and a 1 acre parcel zoned R-1.  Current zoning does not permit an assisted living facility in C-1 or R-1 in Tredyffrin Township.

With an idea to build a 93-bed/79-unit multi-story assisted living facility on the C-1 parcel, the developer Ed Morris through his attorney Denise Yarnoff of Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco, submitted a zoning ordinance amendment change to the township to permit assisted living as a C-1 usage.

Tredyffrin Zoning Code currently addresses assisted living facilities in IO (Institutional Overlay) zoning and includes four pages of restrictions and regulations, including residential density, bed density, buffers, setbacks, etc. in addition to a 10-acre minimum acreage requirement.  Yarnoff skillfully, and in the best interests of her client, reduced the four pages of regulations to a one sentence zoning ordinance amendment change. She offers no restrictions, regulations or conditional uses … just a C-1 amendment that would allow assisted living in C-1 zoning.  I give Yarnoff credit – as the attorney for Ed Morris, she is certainly maximizing the land development needs of her client.  Assuming Yarnoff gets this C-1 zoning amendment change, then it should be full-steam ahead for Morris to build his assisted living facility — 93 beds/79 units on 1 acre.

Members of the public do not dare call this proposed action ‘spot zoning’.   Supervisors, Planning Commissioners and township staff cringe when residents refer to this proposed change as spot zoning – telling us that it can’t be spot zoning if the change affects all C-1 zoning in the township.  On the flip-side, some of these same people tell us there are no plans for assisted living facilities in any other township C-1 locations.  As I see it, they cannot have it both ways.

A quick real estate Google search indicates a Tornetta Realty Corp. listing of 6.1 acres of ‘Prime Development’ C-1 land available for $3.5 million at 1057 Howellville Road, Berwyn. Now here’s a thought — if Yarnoff’s proposed zoning amendment change can permit 93 beds/79 units on 1 acre in Daylesford, then by my calculations, there would be room for 560 beds on Tornetta’s 6.1 acres in Berwyn.    (Click here to see Tornetta’s Howellville Rd. listing)

I don’t know why certain supervisors and planning commissioners would have us believe that assisted living facilities are not planned for any other C-1 locations.  Seems to me that the C-1 land on Howellville Road for sale would present an excellent opportunity for Morris, Yarnoff et al to build a sister location to their Daylesford assisted living facility!   And remember folks, no official land development plan has been submitted to the township for this project; this is about changing zoning in anticipation of a plan! Yarnoff’s proposed amendment change for C-1 zoning is being considered without the submission of a land development plan. What’s the saying about the “cart before the horse”?

But aside from any concerns about putting 93 beds/79 units on a 1-acre site, I take an exception to the township’s handling of this land development plan and making changes to zoning to suit a particular developer. Where is the voice of the residents?   When elected or appointed officials characterize citizen activism as politics, they’re attempting to marginalize the citizens’ concerns.  The most-affected neighbors to this proposed project, the Daylesford Neighborhood Association (DNA) with Trisha Larkin as president, have banded together hoping to have their collective voice heard.  Their green and white ‘No C-1 Zoning Change’ signs are populating township lawns and the support is building beyond the immediate neighborhood.  Much like George Lucas’ storm troopers in Star Wars, the DNA and their supporters are organizing and preparing for battle but … will it be enough to turn the tides?

Although no land development plan has been officially filed with the township, some seemingly already have the facility built.  Let’s disregard the required process in favor of what some officials believe should be the desired outcome.  The proposed C-1 zoning ordinance change is on the agenda for Thursday, July 19 Planning Commission meeting — concerned township citizens plan to attend.  Right now, I am not certain that their voices will make a difference. According to tonight’s Board of Supervisors agenda, the supervisors will “Schedule Public Hearing to be held on August 20, 2012, to consider amending the Zoning Ordinance, Article XVII §208-65, C-1 Commercial District, Use Regulations to permit a new use: “residential care facility for older persons providing permanent residential accommodations and/or assisted living facilities/services (and supplemental services)”.

Additionally, I have learned that on July 5 the township sent a letter, formally requesting that the Chester County Planning Commission (CCPC) review and provide a formal recommendation on Ed Morris’ proposal to change C-1 zoning. The C-1 zoning amendment change as sent to CCPC is the version written by Morris and Yarnoff, with no restrictions, requirements or conditional use. The deadline for CCPC comment is by August 5 … no accident that the deadline is prior to the proposed August 20 public hearing date.

From my vantage point, the scheduling of the public hearing on the proposed C-1 zoning change and the review request by Chester County Planning Commission in advance of the upcoming Planning Commission meeting is preemptive of the process and citizen input.  To move this process along before hearing the concerns of the community is to marginalize the voices of the citizens. Balancing public concerns requires public input and is crucial in determining the pros and cons of development and possible zoning ordinance changes.  Residents deserve respect and an opportunity to receive answers from those elected to represent us.

Why the rush to push this zoning ordinance change through? Why no bed density restrictions or regulations?  Why no conditional use?

And let’s not forget that Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors hired a consulting team in April to conduct an 18-month, $100,000 analysis of the township’s commercial zoning ordinances.  This proposal to change the township’s C-1 zoning ordinance is preemptive of the consultant’s analysis which begs a question —  why is this township spending $100K for a consultant to analyze the township zoning and make recommendations?

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