Lower Merion Township

Tredyffrin Township Police Union Favored in Act 111 Arbitration Award

Addendum … In an earlier post I wrote about the extreme starting positions of the police union and the township, and it was my opinion that the “answer for the arbitrator must lie somewhere between these two positions.”  In response to my statement, John Petersen assured me that the arbitration award would not be ‘somewhere in the middle’ but rather it would be much closer to the union’s status quo starting position.  At the time, I argued with him, figuring that ‘cutting the difference’ between the opposing union/township positions would ‘make sense’ to the arbitrator.  In reviewing the arbitration award, it is obvious my assumption was incorrect … further explanation of the arbitration process would be helpful.


According to the township website, there is there has been an ‘Act 111 Interest Arbitration Award’ issued for the collective bargaining agreement between the township and the police union, Tredyffrin Township Police Association (TTPA). Enacted in 1968, Act 111 is a state law that provides binding arbitration to police and fire fighters in exchange for a prohibition against strikes. If collective bargaining reaches an impasse and proceeds to the interest arbitration level, the determination reached by the arbitration board is final on the issues in dispute and binding on both parties

I am not sure who is responsible for the arbitration award appearing on the website – our new township manager Bill Martin or Board of Supervisor chair Michelle Kichline.  But to whoever is responsible, thank you … it was a pleasant surprise to find the award pdf on the website, without necessitating a ‘right-to-know’ request.

Since January 2012, the contract between TTPA and the township has been in arbitration; the 3-year police contract expired December 31, 2011.  The process has been held captive for nearly a year, waiting for a ruling from the Board of Arbitration, impartial chair Michael Zobrak, Esq. township arbitrator John P. McLaughlin, Esq. and union arbitrator Stuart W. Davidson, Esq.

The biggest roadblock in collective bargaining contract disputes these days is health care benefits (in addition to salaries) and the Tredyffrin Township/TTPA contract proved no different. In reviewing the arbitration award, please understand that I do not claim labor attorney status or an expertise in contract law. However, it would appear that the independent arbitrator favored the township police in his award.  Some of the highlights of the arbitration award include –

A 4-year township-police contract, retroactive to January 1, 2012.  The term of the contract is January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2015. The arbitration award includes salary increases to TTPA members as follows:

  • January 1, 2012: 3.5%
  • January 1, 2013: 3.5%
  • January 1, 2014: 3.75%
  • January 1, 2015: 4%

The previous TTPA contract included yearly salary increases of 3.5% for 2009, 2010 and 2011.  As a reference point, this week the Lower Merion Township Police Association signed a new 4-year contract that includes 3.5% yearly increase for the first three years and then 3.75% in the final year. It is interesting to note that unlike Tredyffrin, Lower Merion Township and their police department were able to reach a new contract agreement prior to expiration of their current contract.  The TTPA contract expired December 31, 2011 and has been in arbitration for over 11 months.

The healthcare changes contained in the arbitration award for TTPA members should save the township some money.  Under the new agreement, the township will be able to change to medical coverage as soon as possible to a less costly plan (from Aetna PPO to IBC Personal Choice).  Co-pays will be $5 generic and $20 brand.  TTPA members will not contribute toward the cost of their health care insurance premium for 2013; township will analyze premium contributions annually starting in 2014.

Here is a twist in the health care coverage that could produce savings for the township but also some extra money for our police officers – an ‘Opt Out’ plan.  By opting out, the Township will pay officers the following amounts on a yearly basis:

  • Officer drops single coverage: $3,500
  • Officer drops dependent coverage (officer still covered) $4,000
  • Officer drops dependent coverage (officer not covered) $4,500
  • Officer drops spouse (officer still covered) $4,500
  • Officer drops spouse coverage (officer not covered) $5,000
  • Officer drops family coverage (officer still covered) $5,500
  • Officer drops family coverage (officer not covered) $6,000.

I like this incentive based healthcare coverage idea.  If police officers give back on their medical coverage, it will save the township money and in return, produce a financial incentive for TTPA members … a win-win for police officers and the township.

The arbitration award contains an adjustment in minimum payment upwards for officers’ appearance at non-District Justice Court to 4 hours (previous contract was 2 hours).  The award contains a downward adjustment on clothing allowance – previously, the clothing allowance was $600/yr. but is now amended to $200/yr.   The arbitrator dropped the clothing budget by 66% for TTPA members but Lower Merion police officers saw an increase in their clothing allowance in their new contract …   $900 for 2013, $950 in 2014, $1000 in 2015 and $1050 in 2016.

Other than the above points, all terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement, which expired December 31, 2011, continue under this new agreement.  If you recall, one of the sticking points during the contract negotiations had to do with the post-retirement benefits contained in the former police contract.  According to the arbitration award, post-retirement health care coverage for TTPA members is included in the new 4-year contract.

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

The contract further stated that, “… Officers who retired prior to 1/1/09, as well as their spouses and eligible dependents, shall be permanently vested with, and continue to enjoy, the same level of healthcare benefits being provided for them by the Township as of 12/31/2008 at no cost, except for co-payments and deductibles then in effect.”

Part of the problem with the wording of the contract is that although the township will pay for Part B once a retired police officer qualifies for Medicare; there is not an absolute requirement for the police officer to go on Medicare. However, the costlier issue for the township has to do with the years of service requirement.  According to the contract, the requirement for retirement before 1/1/99 was only 15 years of service.  After 1/1/99, it became 20 years of service.  Conceivably, a police officer could retire many years in advance of Medicare qualifying age but continue to receive full healthcare benefits for him or herself plus spouse and dependents.

It would appear that the longevity bonus pay also remains intact for TTPA members as in the previous contract.  The bonus is computed as follows:

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

It should come as no surprise that the township appointed arbitrator John McLaughlin included his dissent with the arbitration award, claiming a “lack of overall balance in the award.”  McLaughlin states that the “neutral arbitrator [Michael Zobrak] issued an unbalanced award that fails to address the Township’s central issue of post-retirement health benefits and the unfunded liability that the Township is facing as a result of those benefits.”

For the record, the township’s unfunded liability is currently $40M.  The township’s 2013 budget contains an annual contribution of $500K to begin to ‘buy down’ the debt, however the unfunded liability grows annually by about $2M.  McLaughlin claims that Zobrak was fully aware of the township’s unfunded liability issue but that he inexplicably, “failed to address this issue in the award.  Instead, he [Zobrak] cherry picked around this issue, and issued an award that is a disservice to the Township’s taxpayers and all involved with this proceeding.”

It also should come as no surprise that the union arbitrator, attorney Stuart Davidson, concurred with the arbitration award.  So … how do you explain the arbitration award? Did Davidson do a better job of presenting the union’s position at the arbitration hearing than McLaughlin did for the township? Or is McLaughlin’s suggestion correct, that fault lies with Zobrak, for the ‘unbalanced award’?  And what about Zobrak, the independent arbitrator?  Why did it take him 11+ months for this award decision?  My research has shown that it typically takes 3-4 months in arbitration. Perhaps a timelier award could have saved the taxpayers some legal fees and certainly would have made the 2013 budget planning easier.

Beyond the financial responsibilities to the township contained in the new police contract, exactly how much did this yearlong arbitration cost the taxpayers?  Earlier in December, I asked township manager Bill Martin that very question in a right-to-know request.  As of December 14, 2012, the township had paid McLaughlin of Ballard Spahr $57,067.50 for 2012 legal fees. (McLaughlin’s billing rate is $300/hr.).

According to Martin, Zobrak, the independent arbitrator is paid on a per diem basis and submits his bill at the conclusion of the arbitration.  Martin stated “He [Zobrak] charges for hearing days, days when executive sessions were held and study days (when he reviews materials and drafts the award).  He also might charge partial days when the parties have relatively short conversations.”  I have received conflicting information as to who pays Zobrak’s bill – my understanding from the township manager is that the bill is split between the two sides but a police union representative told me that the township would pay the entire bill.  Now that the arbitration award is public, I will submit a new right-to-know request and obtain the total costs.  (** See Note)

Now that the police contract arbitration is settled, I have to wonder how quickly (or rather how slowly) the current police department staffing needs in the township will be met. There are currently 40 uniformed police officers, although there were 47 officers listed in the 2012 budget. The 2013 township budget approved the hiring of two additional police officers for a total of 42 officers, although the ICMA police operations and data analysis report indicated a minimum of three additional uniformed officers (total of 43 officers) were required to maintain the safety of the community. Police Supt Tony Giaimo’s request to reinstate 47 officers in the 2013 budget was denied.

Every time I think about that boilerplate consultant’s report that cost the taxpayers $49K I get angry – what a complete waste of money.  I wonder if the intention of some supervisors (in hiring consultants to review the police department) was to intimidate the police union during the negotiation process. Based on the outcome of the arbitration award, if that was their strategy, I’d say that their plan failed miserably.

Here’s hoping that the police department gets their budgeted, additional officers quicker than the sidewalks have gone in at St. Davids Golf Club!


** Note:  According to Allegheny Institute of Public Policy,  under the conditions of Pennsylvania’s Act 111 law,  “The employer has to pay the costs of its arbitrator as well as the costs of the neutral arbitrator.”  In other words, there will be no ‘splitting’ of Zobrak’s arbitration fee with the union — the taxpayers will pay bill for the township arbitrator and the independent arbitrator.

To make it sting more, I was told by several officers, that the township did not spend much time negotiating with the union, opting to go straight to arbitration.  It makes me wonder — could the township have saved a year’s worth of legal fees if they had tried reasonable negotiations with the union.  Upper Merion Township was able to negotiate with their police union without arbitration; signing a new 4-year contract prior to the expiration of their last contract.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Lower Merion’s website policy:

Lower Merion Township Web Site Operating Policy


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


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


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

Conduct Unbecoming . . . Hate Mail Targets Local Blogger!

For the second time in 8 days, fellow blogger Carla from Save Ardmore Coalition has endured hate mail . . . that is, personally addressed mail with no note, only feces. The first envelope arrived at her home on February 10 and latest envelope addressed to her, arrived today at the post office box of Save Ardmore Coalition. This mail too contained fecal material.  Who would do this, and why?

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “. . .  if you passively accept a wrong, you are as much involved in it as the one who perpetrates it. If you accept the wrong without protesting it, King said, you are really cooperating with it.”

Hate mail, whatever its form, is harassment, and it is wrong. Why should expressing your opinion result in foul and abusive hate mail?   Regardless of our roles – political figures, pundits, community activists – is this the price of free speech?   

Call it sisterhood, kindred spirits or one ‘blogger to another’, Carla’s incident has shaken me.  Every writer who says something slightly provocative or controversial is a target for hate mail.  And hate mail can come in many forms – including blog posts, anonymous comments, email and letters.  Hate mail never intends to start a discussion.  The goal is to silence.

The recent violence in Arizona shows us the level of anger and vitriol that some people are carrying around in today’s society.  Near-fanatical hatred drives personal attacks on people with whom they may disagree.  It is a Federal offense to send feces through the US Postal service and I hope that the Lower Merion Police Department can track down this criminal.  

Beyond adding awareness and offering my support through this post on Community Matters, I am feeling helpless. Is this the price tag for freedom of speech?

Below is Carla’s latest post on Save Ardmore Coalition.

So today started like any other day, except it was warm and beautiful out. Then around noon, Ria from Save Ardmore Coalition contacted me to let me know I had SAC mail at the P.O. Box in Ardmore – it happens occasionally.

But given what happened to me recently (being sent poop in the mail as documented in the post Is This a Price of Free Speech), I asked her to describe the envelope. What she described was a doppelgänger of the first poopy-gram.

Oh HELLO groundhog day! Seriously?

So I went to pick up the envelope and it was identical except the address was the SAC P.O. Box and the postmark was Philadelphia not Southeastern. Same pencil, same caps/block printing, same stinky contents.

I did not open the envelope and instead took myself right to the Lower Merion Police Department. I made an additional report and BOTH envelopes have been taken into the Lower Merion Police Department as evidence. They are being processed as evidence and the LMPD is taking this second incident seriously.

I have to tell you the LMPD was wonderful today. The LMPD actually opened the envelope which arrived today – and yes – the contents were the same: shit. (Of course I wonder how the post office people in Ardmore couldn’t smell this, because this one did stink.)

I also called NBC10, and yes, this will be a news story – they find the topic newsworthy and before someone rolls up here and says self-aggrandizement, I want you to stop and think how disgustingly timely this is. Think about what the blogging teacher in Bucks County, Natalie Monroe is going through – even if she is turning this into a national media tour. More to the point, were the scary assed threats the Notre Dame Teacher who blogged, Elizabeth Collins was subjected to.

The commonality is, like it or not, in my head – targeting bloggers, specifically female bloggers. This is a crime against women, like it or not. I don’t believe in crime against women.

Now, the country not heard from: The United States Postal Service. In spite of calls from high level customer service personnel at the United States Postal Service who have told me mailing shit is a federal offense, in spite of having been directed to a Philadelphia area inspector via (877)-876-2455, I have yet to have a phone call back from any postal inspector.

I write about lots of things, but I don’t believe this is any politician – not their M.O. – they just denounce me from podiums and lump me into small mean spirited groups of individuals and twaddle on about decorum as they eviscerate citizens for exercising their right to free speech.

Do I know who this is? No. But to be honest, this isn’t the first time I have had an “admirer”.

Not all of you may like my writing style or poking fun at politicians, but I do have standards and do not believe ANY blogger or ANY woman deserves this.

I thank all of you out there for your support and caring and concern – from the police to friends, fellow bloggers and members of the traditional media.

I will continue to provide the police with any poopy-grams and any threats I receive.

To the person out there who is doing this – I am not sure what I did, but I am sorry you are upset. But seriously, you need to stop, as what you have done apparently is actually illegal. To me it makes it SO not worth it.

Ok bloggers, weigh in.

Lower Merion, Tredyffrin Townships Struggle With ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Manipulation . . . Where’s the Transparency?

Mother Nature caused the cancellation of tonight’s interim supervisor interviews.  Fortunately the Personnel Committee was able to reschedule the interviews for tomorrow night.  Although the interview process will only include 3 supervisors  (Kichline, Donahue, Lamina)  rather than all six supervisors, I am accepting that it is a step in the right direction.  I know each of the candidates, Eamon Brazunas, Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock, personally and the residents of Tredyffrin would be fortunate to have any one of them serve as interim supervisor.

Regardless of the candidate ultimately chosen, I do believe that we need to continue to encourage greater transparency from our elected officials. Similarly to Tredyffrin Township, Lower Merion Township is involved in the process of filling vacancies of elected officials.  In Lower Merion’s case, two Commissioners have resigned.  Residents have questioned the appointment process in Lower Merion; concerned by an orchestrated effort to manipulate the outcome behind the scenes. Many residents feel that the Commissioner replacements are predetermined — some suggest the replacement Commissioner is known before the vacancy is publicly announced!  Some in Tredyffrin have suggested that a similar situation may exist.

Audrey Romasco of Bryn Mawr offers her opinion in Main Line Times on Lower Merion’s appointment process . . . and Lower Merion officials who can stay within the law, but manage to disregard transparency and civic participation. 

Ms. Romasco’s letter ends with “In 2011, a year of municipal elections, it is time for citizens of Lower Merion to demand a level of transparency that both fulfills the law and fosters civic participation and to consider how well that demand is met when they enter the voting booth.”  Many readers of Community Matters would probably agree with Ms. Romasco.  If you don’t approve of the way things are done, make your voice heard through your vote.  As you read the letter below, replace Lower Merion Township and their Commissioner vacancy with Tredyffrin Township and our interim supervisor vacancy.

Transparency more than letter of the law
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
By Audrey W. Romasco, Bryn Mawr

Over the past four weeks the residents of Lower Merion have learned a very important lesson: it is possible to follow the letter of the law, enacted in the Sunshine Act, and still deprive the citizens of transparency.

I am speaking of the Machiavellian handling of the serial resignations of Commissioners Reed and Taylor. By Bruce Reed’s own account, he had been considering resigning for the past year. Mr. McGuire also stated that Reed approached him “two or three months” before his resignation. Yet Reed waited to publicly disclose his intention until just before the close of business on Dec. 23, the last day before two shortened holiday weeks.

In other words he timed his resignation to deliberately attract the least attention from the public and to minimize the possibility of developing interest from candidates other than Mr. McGuire whom he had chosen to fill the vacancy. This goal was furthered by the very compressed scheduling of the deadline for applications.

The First Class Township statutes in Pennsylvania state that the Board of Commissioners must fill a vacancy within 30 days of the vacancy occurring. In Mr. Reed’s case, the vacancy did not actually occur until the close of business on Jan. 19. The board thus had until Feb. 18 to name a replacement. Instead, hard on the heels of residents returning to non-holiday mode, applications were due by Jan. 6. This week Lower Merion experienced déjà vu. Commissioner Taylor announced that he was resigning as of Feb. 15. Again, though the Board of Commissioners by statute has until March 17 to fill the vacancy, it has instead rushed the process forward, anticipating interviews on Feb. 9, which would require applications to be submitted by Feb. 3, a mere 13 days after Taylor tendered his resignation. Taylor was cannier than Reed. He demurred when asked about his replacement, saying he had talked to several people. However, the foreshortened timetable can only lead one to believe that a predetermined successor has been identified.

All of the above is strictly legal. It even has precedent in Lower Merion politics. It is also bad government.

First, the voters of these two wards had an expectation when they went to the polls three years ago that their elected representatives would complete their terms barring health issues or relocation. Such was not the case with Messrs. Reed and Taylor. Rather than transparently announcing well in advance that they would not seek re-election, they merely decided that they wanted to “reprioritize” their lives: that they didn’t owe their constituents the last 10 months of their “contract” with their ward residents. This sheds an entirely different light on all the votes they cast in the last several months, a context that was completely hidden from the Lower Merion citizens.

Second, by grooming specified replacements well in advance of announcing their resignations, they have denied a level playing field to all applicants. Several commissioners noted that Mr. McGuire was more “up to speed”; small wonder when he had three months to prepare. And while the commissioners had time to privately interview the candidates for Ward 13 (indeed several Democratic commissioners had already committed their vote to Mr. McGuire before the application deadline), few constituents were afforded enough time to meet them, perhaps in a venue such as a civic-association interview.

Third, they have cunningly influenced the elections playing field. They have discouraged what otherwise might be a vigorous primary contest in May by investing one candidate with the advantages of incumbency.

Finally, and by no means least, they have once again done damage to the concept that civic participation is a virtue. Their premature resignations suggest they consider only their own self-interests, an all too common perception of elected officials. The truncated appointment process signals predetermined results. A commissioner purportedly telling a citizen not to waste their breath supporting Stuart Ebby chills all citizen comment.

The National Constitution Center’s 2010 Pennsylvania Civic Health Index shows that only 11.2 percent of Pennsylvanians contacted or visited a public official and only 8.8 percent attended a meeting where political issues were discussed. That ranks Pennsylvania 29th and 38th respectively among the 50 states. As appalling as these numbers are, it can hardly be surprising when some of our elected officials do everything in their power to discourage transparency and citizen participation.

In 2011, a year of municipal elections, it is time for citizens of Lower Merion to demand a level of transparency that both fulfills the law and fosters civic participation and to consider how well that demand is met when they enter the voting booth.

Could Lower Merion’s Decision on Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Occur in Tredyffrin?

Who said one person could not make a difference?

I have been following the  journey of University of Penn senior Jason Goodman.  Goodman, a resident of Lower Merion and founder of ‘Equality Lower Merion’ has spent the last year advocating for an anti-discrimination law in Lower Merion to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

 Last night, the Board of Commissioners of Lower Merion Township made history.  They voted unanimously to approve an ordinance to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from discrimination.  Passing this ordinance, they became the 18th municipality in Pennsylvania to enact similar legislation.

Currently, the Pennsylvania state law bans discrimination for list of protected classes, including race, ethnicity, religion, age, class, gender and others, but does not include any protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.  Lower Merion will add members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) community to the protected class with this ordinance.

Prior to the passing of the anti-discrimination ordinance, members of the LBGT communities could be refused service at restaurants, fired from jobs or evicted from their homes, simply based on their sexual orientation and would have no legal recourse under state or federal law.  Thanks in no small part to Goodman’s efforts that will no longer be the case in Lower Merion Township with the passage of this ordinance. 

In addition to the ordinance, Lower Merion Commissioners created a 7-member Human Relations Commission that will receive and investigate complaints and has the authority to impose penalties on violators, including fines up to $10,000. 

I was curious which other Pennsylvania municipalities had passed a similar ordinance.  A friend of mine, Joanne Tosti-Vasey is president of PA NOW (National Organization for Women) was able to provide me with the following list of municipalities with similar anti-discrimination laws on the books. According to Joanne, Lancaster had a similar ordinance but apparently the law has been rescinded and the office will be completely shut down by the end of next week.  Interesting. I think that Philadelphia may have been the first municipality in the state to pass this type of legislation and that was in the 1980.

  1. Allentown
  2. Allegheny Co.
  3. Doylestown
  4. Easton
  5. Erie
  6. Harrisburg
  7. Hatboro
  8. Lansdowne
  9. New Hope
  10. Philadelphia
  11. Pittsburgh
  12. Reading
  13. Scranton
  14. State College
  15. Swarthmore
  16. West Chester
  17. York

So Community Matters readers, what do you think?  Do you think that we should follow our neighbor’s lead and enact a similar anti-discrimination ordinance?  Is this an idea that our Board of Supervisors should consider for 2011?

Lower Merion Township 2011 Budget Proposes 12.7% Real Estate Tax Increase . . . Can Tredyffrin Be Far Behind?

I was checking on the agenda for Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting and a couple of items of note.  First, there will be the adoption of a resolution setting lease rental and rate and any sewer revenue of the Authority; and secondly, the presentation of the 2011 proposed budget. Now that Election Day 2010 has passed, it is going to be very interesting to see the proposed 2011 budget.

The first draft of Lower Merion Township’s 2011 budget came out today and it calls for a 12.7% municipal tax rate increase!  Th proposed 12.7% increase represents the highest tax increase since the 2003 budget according to the summary posted on their township website

Lower Merion Township Manager Doug Cleland explained the large real estate tax increase was necessary to close the $4.4 million general fund budget gap.  Reasons cited by Cleland for the budget gap included employee healthcare cost increases, pay raises to police officers and debt service expenses for infrastructure projects. Also contained in the proposed budget is an anticipated sanitary sewer rental fee in the range of 9%.  But the tax increase does not close the $4.4 million deficit – the proposed budget will still be short $1 million which is expected to come from the general fund. Should that happen, it will mark the third year in a row for a general fund withdrawal.

But what about Tredyffrin Township and our proposed 2011 budget?  Is there any correlation between Lower Merion and Tredyffrin townships?  With much no-tax increase banter in Tredyffrin lately, it would suggest that our supervisors would not be leaning in the direction of Lower Merion and increasing our real estate taxes.  Any increases in real estate taxes would go against promises delivered during the campaign season. 

However, if we assume that township costs have continued to rise and that revenue (transfer tax, etc.) sources are down, how will our elected officials combat the budget gap?  Either by increasing taxes or by reducing expenses (services, personnel, etc.).  Certainly going to be interesting Monday night . . . our government cannot have it both ways. 

Easttown Supervisors are Setting the ‘Bar’

My recent experience at Easttown’s special meeting re the Hawkins property and subsequent post has found its way east on the main line. 

In discussing the attitude of some Lower Merion commissioners, which at times places politics and special interest ‘first’  and their residents ‘last’ in the list of priorities, blogger Carla compared Easttown’s civility to Lower Merion’s elected officials  in her recent post, ‘If Only Lower Merion Thought of Residents FIRST Once in a While’.  (Here’s a link to Carla’s post).

Why should appropriate behavior at a township meeting, such as the recent special meeting at Easttown, be heralded as unique and special?  Lately, we have witnessed less than desirable decorum from some elected officials up and down the main line.  Doesn’t matter if it’s Lower Merion, Radnor or  Tredyffrin Townships . . . civility and appropriate decorum is slipping away, replaced with a combative atmosphere. 

Rather than a unique situation, Easttown’s civil discourse this week should be the norm, why has the ‘bar’ of local government now been set so seemingly low?

 How do we encourage change of attitude in our leaders? How do we raise the bar of expectation?  I know it’s possible . . . I saw it this week in Easttown!

Lower Merion’s La Ronda was Demolished . . . Could this Happen in Tredyffrin Township?

Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s Spring Lecture Series will kick off tomorrow, Wednesday, April 14 with a very special lecture, La Ronda . . . The Fantasy of Architect Addison Mizner.  

La Ronda was an extraordinary and unique house in Villanova that was variously described as Spanish Revival or Castilian Gothic. Built in 1929 by flamboyant architect Addison Mizner for industrialist Percival Foerderer, its National Register nomination described it as including “51 rooms, 21 of which were bedrooms, Spanish towers, Gothic porticos, Venetian stained glass, Italianate monastery cloisters, and European formal gardens.”  After a lengthy and costly battle to save La Ronda, the magnificent structure was demolished in October 2009.   

Strafford resident and architectural historian James B. Garrison will be at historic Duportail House in Chesterbrook on Wednesday, April 14 as guest speaker of the Trust’s Spring Lecture Series.  Mr. Garrison’s lecture on La Ronda will include a slide presentation which will offer a last glimpse of the house and gardens, as well as discussing some of the preservation issues related to the remaining unique residential properties on the Main Line. A reception will begin at 7 PM followed by lecture at 7:30 PM.  Lecture admission is $15 and all proceeds go toward Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s rebuilding effort of the Jones Log Barn at the DuPortail House location.  Visit Trust’s website, www.tredyffrinhistory.org for further information or click here  Spring Lecture 10 – Garrison Press Release  for press release.


La Ronda represented a valuable historic treasure in the community and this lecture provides an opportunity to remember its significance.  Save Ardmore Coalition documented the final days of La Ronda on YouTube; click here to view. 

For purposes of full disclosure, I am Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s president.  We live in a historic community and I would encourage your to attend this lecture and show your support for preserving and protecting our historic resources. 

A Word of Warning — Watch Your Wallets!

I have been following the local news about an extensive rash of burglaries over the last couple of months in the Bala Cynwyd and Merion areas of Montgomery County.  Lower Merion police believe that there are multiple burglary rings working in the area.  There have been 25 burglaries in the last 7 weeks.  Windows or doors are pried open and the target is cash, jewelry and laptop computers . . . small, easy to disguise items.  A couple of suspects have been picked up by the police but others are still at large.  Lower Merion police are keeping the residents informed and have provided local maps where the commercial and residential break-ins have occurred.

I know that Bala Cynwyd is not exactly next-door to Tredyffrin Township; however Tredyffrin is battling its own recent rash of thefts.  At recent Board of Supervisors meetings, Police Chief Andy Chambers has reported incidents involving wallets being removed from ladies purses that were hanging on the back of a chair or on the floor, close to the owner.  In some cases, the wallet is taken from the purse, credit cards and cash removed and the wallet returned to the purse.   I have heard of purse-snatching incidents in Gateway Shopping Center including Panera Bread and Trader Joes.  The following email has been circulating among several of my friends.   To protect her identity, I removed the originating writers name but provide the email as a word of caution.    

You may have heard about the string of robberies at Gateway. I have some insight because they stole from me today — but they only stole my business card case, so I feel like the luckiest woman in Tredyffrin. It is a group of three – one woman strikes up a conversation to distract the victim, the other two (a man and a woman) steal the wallet — right out of your purse. It has happened in virtually every store in Gateway and at Barnes & Noble, according to an officer at the Tredyffrin Police Department.

Please tell your friends and if a stranger wants to talk to you, pick up your purse first!  Even though I knew about the robberies, I had my purse in the basket of my shopping cart at Trader Joes.  Never again — Be careful!

I am one of those people who is guilty of putting my purse in the seat of the shopping cart.  I’m also guilty of putting my purse on the back of the chair.  This needs to be a wake-up call for all of us . . . a word of warning to watch our wallets.

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