Main Line Media News

Seeking Support for Transportation Funding Bill from PA State Rep. Warren Kampf (R-157)

The infrastructure in Pennsylvania is in trouble and our roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are not going to fix themselves – they need funding.

Earlier this year the PA Senate passed a $2.5 billion transportation funding proposal but the House has yet to vote on the measure … but time is running short for the state lawmakers to make a decision about the transportation funding bill. When elected officials return to Harrisburg on Tuesday, November 12, following their election recess, they only have about 10 session days to get the bill to Gov. Corbett for his signature before the end of the year.

Most of the money (approximately $1.9 billion) in the transportation bill would go for road, bridge and tunnel improvements with an additional $500 million earmarked for mass transit projects. In April 2011, I cited a newly released Transportation of America study that named Pennsylvania as first in the nation for having the “largest percentage of structurally deficient bridges”. Without additional funding, the structurally deficient bridges are likely to be weight-restricted, and in some cases, closed.  Beyond the obvious travel difficulties (and potential safety risks) for motorists, the deteriorating infrastructure is no boon to the state’s economic situation.

Of particular interest in the transportation funding bill is the $500 million component marked for mass transit   – one would think that the Paoli Transit Center project would be a candidate. The long and winding road for the Paoli Transit Center looks to now hinge on receiving funding from the proposed transportation bill.   According to Tredyffrin Township Manager Bill Martin, in a MLMN article last month, “If the state can’t meet its current infrastructure needs, all new transportation projects – including Paoli’s – will be held up. Funding brings in more funding. Without state dollars for the project, we can’t get federal dollars and we won’t be able to make deals with private developers.” 

Beyond the Paoli redevelopment project, the Tredyffrin residents whose properties are close to the PA Turnpike, specifically in the Great Valley, Chesterbrook and Glenhardie areas, are seeing the turnpike widening and sound wall plan  ‘on hold’ pending the passage of the transportation funding bill.   The PA Turnpike Commissioners have not approved their fiscal year 2014 Capital Plan that contains the turnpike widening and associated sound walls in Tredyffrin Township. According to a recent email that I received as a member of the PA Turnpike Design Roundtable, “The delay in the [Capital Plan] approval is linked to the ongoing negotiations for statewide transportation funding.  … Hopefully, transportation funding will be address in the near future, and a fiscal year 2014 Capital Plan will be approved.”

The proposed transportation bill that is waiting for approval from State lawmakers significantly impacts two major Tredyffrin Township projects – the Paoli Transit Center and the PA Turnpike (in addition to the improvement of state roads and bridges in the township).  The bill overwhelmingly cleared the Senate in June, what is it going to take for the lawmakers in the House to approve it and send it on to Gov. Corbett for his signature?

Low approval ratings and a challenging reelection battle looming, has Corbett stumping for the passage of the transportation bill.  According to the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll (October 2013), only one in five registered voters (20%) in Pennsylvania approve of the job that Corbett is doing and 61 percent believe that the state is “off on the wrong track”.   You have to think that the passage of a $2.5 billion transportation bill that would improve roads, bridges and transit systems could help boost the Governor’s sagging approval ratings.

State representatives Warren Kampf (R-157) and Duane Milne (R-167) each have a section of the PA Turnpike in their Districts and likewise their Districts overlap in the Paoli redevelopment project.  And like Governor Corbett, Republicans Kampf and Milne are both up for reelection in 2014. Milne is on record as supporting the transportation bill, stating in Main Line Suburban, “Without a substantial transportation bill, there is close to zero chance that the Paoli project gets funded in anywhere close to the foreseeable future. Our state is near the bottom in terms of its roads and transportation system. There is no revenue stream that will let us do first-class upgrades to our roads and infrastructure. If there’s no bill, it’s going to hurt our ability to do new projects like Paoli. We’ll be looking at the status quo or at a declining status quo.”

On the other hand, Kampf has been vocal in his opposition of the proposed transportation bill, at least in its present form.  Although Kampf in not questioning the need for infrastructure improvements, he objects to lifting the tax ceiling on gas wholesalers that would then be passed onto consumers as a means of paying for transportation improvements.  According to his Op-Ed article on TE Patch,  Kampf states that the, “passage of this legislation as it is today offers no guarantees for the future of that, or any other, local project.”   We know that there is no guarantee on project allocation in the funding bill but there is a flipside to this argument — What happens to the Paoli Transit Center project if the currently proposed transportation bill passes the House without Kampf’s signature?

With neighboring District state representatives at odds over the transportation bill, this could be the death knell for our local train station redevelopment project.  If the bill passes without Kampf’s support it seems probable that the funding for the Paoli Transit Center is likely to be used elsewhere

 I understand that Rep. Kampf does not want to increase taxes and is particularly concerned about what the increase in gas tax could mean to seniors, families, and small businesses that are already struggling. Kampf claims that the majority of the constituents who have contacted him do not support an increase in gas taxes to fund road, bridges and transit system improvements.  As one of his constituents, I disagree.  If he spoke to the 4,000 residents in the Great Valley, Chesterbrook and Glenhardie areas impacted by the PA Turnpike widening and sound wall project, I’m guessing that they too would encourage his support of the transportation funding bill.

With a reelection campaign ahead in 2014, is Kampf’s political calculus that the voters will punish him for supporting the transportation bill if it means raising the cost of gas.  In my opinion, it is more likely that the voters will punish him if he doesn’t support the bill, especially if it means the loss of the Paoli Transit Center and the PA Turnpike projects for Tredyffrin.

It’s difficult for elected officials to support a tax increase when they are not running for office – but when its election year, the task is all but impossible.  If Corbett does not have the proposed transportation funding bill on his desk in 2013, it seems unlikely that it will resurface in 2014 (election year).

The infrastructure in Pennsylvania is in trouble and our roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are not going to fix themselves – they need funding and the money has to come from somewhere.  The clock is running down for State lawmakers to maake a decision on transportation funding.

Unclear what answers TE School Board needs regarding Affordable Care Act implemenation that they do not already have

When I added yesterday’s post on Community Matters, the TE School District had not yet posted their update from Monday’s Special School Board meeting.  Because of all the back and forth between the Board and the District solicitor, it was unclear as to  what Affordable Care Act answers were needed by the August 1 deadline that would allow the restoration of hours to  the aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals.  The following explanation of that motion is now on the TESD website but it remains confusing as to what further information the solicitor needs regarding ACA before August 1, that the Treasury Department press release from last week did not include.

From reading the 100-word second sentence in the update below, exactly what further information does the Board want provided from Washington?  In an email to Caroline O’Halloran, which appears in today’s MLMN Suburban, school board President Kevin Buraks, stated “It is my hope that the Treasury Department will promptly provide the needed guidance so that we can restore our current aides and paraprofessionals to their full hours next school year.”  I guess it doesn’t matter that I’m not clear what that ‘needed guidance’ is, as long as Buraks and the other school board members, the administration and the solicitor know what further information they need.  Here’s hoping whatever Affordable Care Act guidance the Board seeks, arrives by the August 1 deadline!

School Board Reacts to Delay in Affordable Care Act Implementation

At a Special Meeting on July 8, 2013 to specifically address the Vanguard assessment appeal, the T/E School Board took action following the announcement of the delay of the Affordable Care Act as communicated by the Treasury Department last week. The Board action states that, upon confirmation from the District Solicitor that the Treasury Department has delayed the implementation of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to the Board’s June 17 resolution, the Board voted 8-1 to authorize the administration to suspend implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution directing the administration to schedule all District part-time employees, such as aides and para-educators, for no more than 27.5 hours per week for the 2013-2014 school year to ensure that they meet the definition of part-time employees pursuant to the Affordable Care Act for the 2014-2015 school year.  If no such confirmation is made by the District Solicitor by August 1, 2013, the administration will not suspend the implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution.  Whether or not implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution is suspended, all new part-time hires, as defined under the Affordable Care Act, will be scheduled to work no greater than 27.5 hours per week.

Post-TE School Board Meeting: Saying No to “Sockpuppeteering’

The dust has begun to settle following the emotionally charged June meeting of the TE School District, a little over a week ago.  I wasn’t sure how (or if) I was going to write another post about that evening, but yesterday on my way to Valley Forge Park I passed a white ribbon tied to a Chesterbrook street sign and took it as a ‘sign’.

The reality of the June 17th meeting, and the unanimous vote by the Board to decrease the weekly hours of District aides and paraeducators, has me wondering how the energy expended by so many, had so little influence in the outcome.  At every District meeting, we hear the Board president encourage residents to attend meetings, and to participate in the decision-making process, but based on last week’s Board meeting, you really need to stop and ask yourself, why bother?  The three hours of citizen commentary was reduced to a short paragraph in the District’s update of the meeting, stating that that all aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals would be reduced to part-time, and that their work week would not exceed 27.5 hours.

Before an audience of residents and District employees, our elected leaders were unmoved by the comments and suggestions from the public. Passionate parents spoke of the relationships their children shared with aides and emotional statements from affected employees (many of them TESD residents) explained what the reduction in hours would mean to them personnally.  Community members who had sought answers from healthcare experts, and thoughtfully offered their findings to the Board, were also unable to change minds. The outcome of the vote predetermined and the decision of the Board final, we are left puzzling why there’s such a disconnect between the public and our elected officials. The most troubling aspect was the Board’s total disregard for the residents and their opinions.

In the days since the Board meeting, some have suggested that the District aides and paras would have been better off had they been outsourced.  Although criticized that I did the affected employees no favors with my ‘no to outsourcing’ stance, I maintain there was ‘middle ground’ between outsourcing District jobs and cutting employee hours  … a dicussion the administration and school board was unwilling to have. One individual suggested that because our daughter did not attend TE schools that I have no business weighing in on school issues — implying that only those residents with children in the District are qualified to discuss. I disagree.  To the 80% of the residents, who are not parents of children in the TE School District, decisions made by the school board do affect you, and your opinion does matter!

I have received criticism for allowing anonymous comments on Community Matters.  Although I would prefer that people own their words under their own name, I understand that people may have personal reasons for remaining anonymous – including the fear of negative reprisal. As a result, I respect the preference of some genuine commenters to remain anonymous.  However, during the 4 years of Community Matters, I have discovered a negative subset of some anonymous commenters – ‘sockpuppeteering’.  This is a technique where an individual attempts to fool readers into believing that their comments originate by more than one person, while commenting with more than one screen name.

The New York Times explains the childish behavior of sockpuppeteering as, “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies, or company.”  Recent comments on a Main Line Media News article had an individual masquerading as several different commenters, criticizing Community Matters and me. I cannot control the comment posting process of other sites, but going forward on Community Matters, please understand that if you attempt to post with more than one screen name, I will not post your comment. Just as I respect the need for anonymity, I ask that you respect and abide by this rule.

We understand that being an elected official is not an easy thing to do.   I believe that most people, regardless of party affiliation, run for office usually for the right reasons.  I think that most of them want to make a difference, most want to do the right thing and most of them want to help the people they represent.  I’m not sure why the train sometimes goes off the track.  Perhaps in the past, we have failed to hold our public officials accountable and as a result, they take on an attitude of indifference when we finally come to our senses and react to their actions.  As a result, they proceed on doing as they please instead as some of us wish.

So, where do we go from here?  For those that became engaged in the process during the outsourcing issue, now is not the time to give up and walk away.  The continued success of the TE School District is too important and requires our attention.  It takes a village to raise a child and … it takes the great teachers, aides, paras and support staff of the TE School District (plus supportive parents)  to educate the child!

Capital Health ‘flips’ Jimmy Duffy’s property — Sage Senior Living Development is ‘new owner’

This is provided as a follow-up to last night’s presentation at the Planning Commission meeting  on the planned assisted living project at the Jimmy Duffy’s site.

The sketch plan for the new assisted living facility presented by Kelly Cook Andress, President of Sage Senior Living Development, had some notable changes from the original Capital Health plan of 2012.  Gerald Farrell of Capital Health, developer Ed Morris and their attorney Denise Yarnoff attended numerous Planning Commission meetings and community meetings with neighbors and concerned citizens during 2012.  These meetings were the precursor to the township changing CI zoning to permit assisted living as a usage.

Up until the agenda for the Planning Commission meeting was released, we assumed that Capital Health was the owner.  There was no reference last night as to when Sage Senior Living came into the picture or why Capital Health was no longer involved.  However, Denise Yarnoff and Ed Morris do remain as the attorney and developer, respectfully, working now with Andress on the Sage project.

Although the information was not provided at the meeting, according to Caroline O’Halloran’s  Main Line Media News article, Eagle National Bank sold the property to Capital Health on March 29, 2013 for $2.25 million and then immediately ‘flipped’  the property to Sage Senior Living sometime in the last 3 weeks.

When originally presented to residents by Ed Morris in early 2011, the proposed project was described as a ‘retirement’ facility for seniors … a place for local residents to downsize from their large homes but remain in Tredyffrin Township.  I recall Morris initially suggested that many of the residents would have their own cars and be driving in the community.  As the project moved forward, Morris backed off the idea that most of the residents at the facility would be driving — he probably realized that by promoting that residents would be driving also meant they would have cars; and cars would mean greater parking requirements on the site.

Last night, Andress painted a very different picture of the project, stating that the average age of people moving in to the proposed assisted living facility would be 86 years, not the ‘empty nesters’ of the earlier plan.  She spoke of her Towson, MD facility, similar in size to the 78-80 units planned for the Duffy site.  At her Towson facility, only 2 of the residents still have drivers licenses and only one of them has a car.  Andress used the rationale of so few drivers as the reason that Sage Senior Living would not need the required parking.  She spoke of the stricter

How many parking spaces does Andress need for her Sage Senior Living project?  Here’s the applicable township zoning regulation:

§208-103 Off-Street Parking

(23) Residential care facilities for older persons and skilled nursing facilities: one parking space per two permanent beds approved unless otherwise a greater number is determined by the Zoning Officer after taking into consideration the number of units, occupancy per unit and number of employees.

Looking at Andress’ plan for 78-80 units (and assuming only one bed per unit) at a minimum, this assisted living facility requires 39-40 parking spaces.  The C1 zoning for assisted living permits a facility to have 100 beds, which would require a minimum of 50 parking spaces.  Although the adjacent VetCare has parking, those parking spaces cannot be included in the development project. The sketch plan indicated 37 parking spaces, which falls short of the township required parking.

The earlier assisted living facility plan required the use of the R1 zoning parcel to meet the parking requirement.  Andress’ plan show

Several times during the Sage Senior Living presentation, Andress referred to sub-committee meetings with Planning Commissioners.  It was unclear from the meeting which commissioners were part of this sub-committee although Commissioner Tory Snyder referenced these prior discussions in her comments to the applicant. As an audience member,  it was very confusing to follow the references to these non-public meetings.

Due to weather, Daylesford Neighborhood Association President Trisha Larkin was delayed in Chicago and unable to attend the Planning Commission meeting.  Trish provided the following statement to Community Matters:

Unfortunately my flight was delayed yesterday and I couldn’t attend the meeting.  However, I was briefed by several residents and here are our top concerns:

1. When C-1 zoning was changed last Fall to include ALF use, it was all predicated on the OLD owner’s vision and site plan.  Last night, the new owner (Sage) proposed a much different vision and perhaps a more “institutional” use than what was approved for Capital Health by the BoS.  The “lock-down/underground” dementia/Alzheimer’s Unit that Sage has in mind leaves us questioning if the PA Code allows for such use in C-1?  It seems that more discovery should take place to determine if such use is permitted in C-1.

2. § 208-103 Off-Street Parking Facilities.  Perhaps Sage is under the impression that supplying enough parking in the C-1 space is optional vs. mandatory.  Tredyffrin Township Zoning Code 208-103 states they must provide 1 parking space per 2 permanent beds.   This has been the DNA’s point for over a year – the Duffy space is entirely too small for this project.

If Sage chooses to put that many beds (78 – 100) on 1 acre, then they MUST provide a minimum of 39 parking spaces.  It’s irrelevant if the average resident is 86 and doesn’t drive.  Zoning laws are zoning laws! Tredyffrin already did Ed Morris a solid and changed C-1 zoning for this project.  Now what?  The PC, BoS and Zoning Health Board should just whimsically reduce the # of parking spaces required too?   Seriously?  You can’t have it both ways!  39 spaces are needed to safely accommodate employees, visitors, residents, deliveries, physicians stopping in to provide care, rehab nurses, etc.

It’s my understanding that Dr. Rowan of Paoli Vet Care was adamant at the PC meeting that he doesn’t intend to “share” his allotted 15 spaces with Sage.  Therefore, Sage should not include those spots in their June site plan.

So, the DNA asks (again) – HOW can Sage build the facility, the parking, picnic areas, etc. all on ONE acre of C-1 space?

Easy – they’ll ask the PC and BoS to “borrow” from the one acre of R-1!  Although the current sketch plan showed the R-1 parcel as “green” space, the DNA is very concerned Sage intends to use the R-1 space as “overflow parking” down the line.  The PC, BoS and ZHB cannot allow any more concessions for this project!  R-1 is a precious commodity and it needs to be protected!  The DNA must be assured that the green space (R-1) must never be used for anything other than green space!

Perhaps THIS is why ALF’s should have a have a 3 – 5 acre minimum requirement??  Try as you may…you JUST can’t stuff a Size 10 foot into a Size 5 shoe!!

3.  “Secret” Meetings:  It’s very concerning that a few PC members admitted that discussions took place at Sub-Committee meetings.  News to the DNA!  We’ve never been invited to any such meetings, nor did we know any such meetings occurred.  Since we are the folks that are most directly impacted by this project – (yet again) WHY are we not included in the process?  Frankly, it’s insulting.  It seems that the builder, the ALF owner, and a few township officials are involved in Sub-Committee (secret) meetings, but the residents are left out time and again.  Very sad.

The DNA plans to stay actively involved in the Site Plan process.  We respectfully request that the Township make no further concessions for this project.  If Sage is compelled to build such a massive project, perhaps they can look to larger parcels that would more appropriately accommodate such an ambitious project.

Thank you,
Trisha Larkin
DNA President

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Addendum to this article:
As part of her presentation to the Planning Commission, Sage Senior Living Development President Andress described her other two assisted living facilities, one in Towson, MD and the other in Wallingford, PA – Plush Mills.  Because Plush Mills is close, I was interested to learn more about that facility and its management.  Plush Mills is a 7-story high-rise building in Delaware County and would have the same oversight by PA Department of Public Welfare as the proposed Paoli facility.

Researching Plush Mills online, I found violation reports from PA Department of Public Welfare stemming from annual state inspections.  Annual inspections are required for assisted living facilities in Pennsylvania.  All violations specified on the violation report must be corrected by a specified date and continued compliance must be maintained.

Some of the Plush Mills violations are as mundane as missing trash can lids to more serious issues including employees not receiving required Federal criminal background checks within required 80 days of hiring and discontinued patient medicine not properly destroyed.

Below are the links to complete PA Department of Public Welfare violation reports for Plush Mills:

The Saga of the Tennis Courts Continues …

The saga of the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School continues.  On April 2, representatives from the School Board, Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, staff and the District’s architect held a public meeting to discuss the fate of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.

Although there was support to save the tennis courts from those residents in attendance, no decision was made at the meeting. The tennis courts are on the Facilities Committee agenda for tomorrow (Friday), 2 PM at the TESD Administration Building.  Also included in the agenda packet  is the site map for the parking lot expansion and aerial view of the courts.

I remain confused as to why the District wants to demolish the tennis courts.  From a logical standpoint, some of the arguments simply do not make sense to me.

  •  The tennis courts are not located adjacent to the parking lot and their location does not affect the parking lot expansion plans.  To add the 24 parking spaces does not require the demolition of the 2 tennis courts.
  • There has been much back and forth between the School District business manager Art McDonnell and the Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo in regards to “trading” impervious surface requirement of the parking lot expansion by demolishing the courts.  McDonnell claims that there was a prior agreement with former Township Manager Mimi Gleason in regards to this arrangement;  Martin and Burgo claim otherwise. 
  • In an email to Bill Martin and Art McDonnell (cc Phil Donohue) dated March 20, Burgo states the following: 

Township staff including the previous Manager (Ms. Gleason), Engineer (Mr. Burgo), and (Mrs. McPherson), attended meetings with Art McDonnell and TESD consultant staff on these Tennis Courts more than a year ago.  In those meetings, the TESD discussed their plans to add a new parking lot at the VFES in the future. I want to be clear that the TESD and their consultants originally asked if they could swap the impervious, but were told by the Township that they couldn’t.  Stormwater Management controls are required by the Township Stormwater Ordinance, for all new impervious being constructed onsite. There is no credit or swap if the courts are removed from a stormwater management standpoint, only from a zoning standpoint.

  • On behalf of the District, Art McDonnell has publicly maintained that there was a ‘deal’ in regards to the impervious surface requirement. Yet as evidenced by Burgo’s email, the township has denied any such deal existed.  Further, to the point, such a deal would be illegal as the stormwater ordinance makes no provision for such a credit.  Therefore, we can only conclude that the School District represented by the business manager Art McDonnell has been less than truthful as to their rationale for demolishing the tennis courts.
  • The construction of the additional parking spaces will require a zoning variance. According to VFES neighbor Matt Morgan, township officials indicated at the April 2 Facilities Committee meeting that they would expedite the process and probably waive the associated fees (if asked).

Besides the impervious surface debate, another rationale for the removal of the tennis courts from the District was their cost to maintain.  I have had a number of residents tell me that courts are in excellent condition – although I don’t claim any expertise on tennis courts, the 2 courts at VFES looked in good shape to me.

Another neighbor to the tennis courts, Don Detweiler, has been providing routine maintenance for a number of years.  Neither the School District nor the township has expended any dollars on the courts.  In an April 1 TE Patch article , local resident Jeff Sacks, a tennis coach, is quoted as offering to pay the maintenance cost.  According to Matt Morgan, a local Davis Cup tennis player who lives in the neighborhood and uses the courts, has offered to hold tennis clinics for children and donate the proceeds to maintain the courts.

Beyond the ‘he said, she said’ aspects of this story, that has me shaking my head is the notion that the tennis courts are going to cost money unless they are demolished.  According to the District, the cost to seek a variance from the township’s Zoning Hearing Board will be $12K – $14K; $2K in fees and the remainder in architectural fees.  However, the supervisors stated at the April 2 public meeting that they would probably waive the fees if asked.  And there would not be need for additional architectural services or drawings — the District could apply for a variance based on the current drawings.

Why is there such a rush to take down the tennis courts?  Why is the building of the 24 parking spaces contingent on the removal of the courts?  It has been verified that there was no such ‘deal’ exists to swap the tennis courts for impervious coverage requirement.  There should be a better reason to remove the tennis courts other than the courts are on District property and they School Board has the right to do what they want.  It’s true the courts are on District property but the District property is owned by the residents.

Tomorrow is the Facilities Committee meeting.  Representing the School Board on Facilities is Pete Motel, Jim Bruce and Liz Mercogliano.  According to a April 2 article in the  Main Line Media News, Mercogliano is siding with the residents and supports keeping the tennis courts.  From the article –

“There is no legitimate reason based on impervious surface, stormwater management, safety (or) sink holes to remove the court,” Mercogliano said in an e-mail. “The parking can be built in same area with no issue as there is more land space.

“The community deserves their right to be heard and look into other means of raising funds for maintenance and possible takeover of the court through the Parks and Recreation board or a similar foundation to raise funds. I am supporting a delay to allow the opportunity for the taxpayer to seek an alternative method to save the courts for the kids.

There will be a recommendation from the Facilities Committee tomorrow. If you are unable to attend the 2 PM meeting, you could send an email to the Board at:  schoolboard@tesd.net or to individual Board members. However, I emailed the School Board president Kevin Buraks 8 days ago (in regards to the tennis courts) and to date, have received no response or acknowledgement to my inquiry.

This Issue is not only Tennis Courts … It’s accountability from elected officials

It is likely that many in our community were not aware of last week’s drama over the planned demolition of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School this past Saturday. Through the efforts of many neighborhood members, the courts received a temporary “stay of execution” to allow for further discussion.  However, getting the School Board Directors to call off the bulldozers at the ninth hour did not come easily or without a political tug-of-war between the School District and Tredyffrin Township.  In the end, the issue wasn’t about a few neighbors crying foul over the proposed demise of their local tennis courts. From my vantage point, this problem has more to do when elected officials and administrators choose to ignore the voices of the community until the situation borders on explosive.

For those that are unaware of what I’m talking about, here’s the brief overview.  Tredyffrin Township, on Tredyffrin Easttown School District property, constructed the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School and until 2009, maintained the two courts.  In 2009, the Township decided they no longer wanted to maintain the courts and requested that the School District take over maintenance.  However, according to TESD business manager, Art McDonnell, the District has never maintained the tennis courts.

The District’s 2008 parking study concluded the need for additional parking spaces at Valley Forge Elementary School — requiring the expansion of the existing lot.  I need to point out that the parking lot and its planned expansion is located in the front of the elementary school whereas the tennis courts are in the back of the property.  The expansion of the VFES parking would not include the property where the tennis courts are located.

The obvious question to ask … why demolish the tennis courts if the parking lot expansion is not close to the courts. It was the view of the School Board that they could trade the increased impervious coverage and storm water requirements of the new parking area with the removal of the tennis courts.  The Board believed that this approach would reduce the parking lot project costs and save taxpayer money.  McDonnell claimed that there was an agreement between the District and the Township in this regard.

Shortly before last week’s School Board meeting, Glenhardie neighbors to Valley Forge Elementary School were notified of Saturday’s planned demolition of the tennis courts.  Representing her neighbors, township resident Rosemary Kait appealed to the School Board Directors to delay the demolition pending further discussion. Based on the discussion, it appeared that the demolition was required by the township to meet storm water requirement for the parking lot expansion project.  Kait left the School Board meeting and went  to the Board of Supervisors meeting, seeking  resolution.

As the clock ticked down to Saturday’s ‘Demolition Day’, there was a flurry of activity with phone calls and emails from the residents to the School Board and administration as well as the township manager and Board of Supervisors. What quickly developed was a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ – with Art McDonnell claiming that the Township required the demolition of the tennis courts to meet storm water requirements for the expanded parking lot.  Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo countered McDonnell’s claims, stating that the removal of the tennis courts would not reduce the storm water requirements of the additional parking spaces.

In a press release from the Township, Martin takes issue with the way the District is presenting the situation to the public, and states that the District’s “… statement implies the Township requirements ‘force’ you to remove the courts”.  Martin suggests, “The District could have easily gone to the ZHB (Zoning Hearing Board) for zoning relief to impervious coverage limit.”

As McDonnell and Martin issued their statements on behalf of the District and Township respectfully, the residents worked behind the scenes – appealing directly to members of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.  Copied on many of the email exchanges, I learned that these tennis courts are regularly used, not just by neighbors but by children in PTO sponsored after-school tennis programs.  I also learned that the tennis courts are currently in very good condition; but not because the courts are maintained by either the District or the Township.  For several years, at no cost to the Township or District the neighbors have actually maintained the tennis courts.

Believing that there had to be a better solution than demolition, (like a ZHB variance), all the residents were simply asking for delay for further discussion.  Although some have suggested that the proposed demolition of the tennis courts is not political, you cannot escape the fact that the president of the School Board Kevin Buraks (D) and chair of the Board of Supervisors Michelle Kichline (R) are completing their first terms and now seek re-election to the School Board and BOS, respectfully.  Clearly caught in the midst of this tug-of-war and finger-pointing, the residents planned a 7 AM ‘Save our Tennis Courts” rally.

Supportive of the residents, I planned to attend their early morning rally.  Acutely aware that the School District owns the property and therefore has the right to demolish the tennis courts, I believed that further discussion could produce an acceptable alternative to bulldozing. Very late on Friday night, School Board president Kevin Buraks notified the neighbors of the Board’s decision to delay the demolition, pending further discussion.  The next monthly TESD meeting is Monday, April 22.

Bottom line … in my opinion, much of the drama over the demolition of the tennis courts and the ninth hour decision to delay could have been avoided.  How?  Residents deserve better communication and accountability from elected officials.  I am troubled by (1) the lack of adequate notification of the District to VFES neighbors of the demolition; (2) misrepresentation or confusion of the related facts (I suggest that you read the conflicting  Township press release and the School District’s response) and (3) the overall feeling from residents of unresponsiveness from the School Board and administration.

Normally, I do not comment on Ray Hoffman’s column in Main Line Media News, but I take issue with his characterization of the threatened tennis court demolition.  In this week’s column, Hoffman says, “… the recent flak from neighbors over the scheduled demolition of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School is Shakespearean at its best, “much ado about nothing,” or an inventive modification of the NIMBY “law” at its worst.”

Mr. Hoffman, I could not disagree more … the proposed tennis court demolition is about much more than about ‘nothing’.  It is about accountability and transparency from our elected officials.  It is about the public’s trust for fairness from our government.  It is about those elected to serve listening to our concerns and working with us for acceptable solutions.  Poor accountability erodes our trust.

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

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

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

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

Banter’s Razzy winners include –

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

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

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

NRA Statement: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”

In advance of today’s statement, The National Rifle Association stated that the organization would offer “meaningful contributions to help make sure that this never happens again.” In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, I was hopeful that the NRA would nudge national laws toward making it hard to gain access to some semi-automatic weapons, such as the one used last week.  I was hopeful that the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary might trigger a change in the NRA’s policy toward gun control.

Unfortunately, the olive branch of compromise was not what the NRA had in mind.  The NRA broke their week-long silence with a statement read by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre that calls for guns at every school in America.  While the President is calling on Congress to act on gun control legislation, LaPierre believes that the only effective way to protect our schoolchildren is with “properly trained armed good guys”. 

Echoing the sentiments of some Community Matters commentators, LaPierre said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” adding, “Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away … or a minute away?”  Others have argued on Community Matters, that rather than banning guns, the government should be arming teachers and administrators in schools so that they can defend students in the event of another school shooting.

LaPierre’s words scoffed at the notion that banning semi-automatic weapons or enacting gun control laws could stop school violence.  Instead, he cast blame for gun violence in schools on the violence of video games and movies.

The NRA statement did nothing to address the problem of the availability of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Although the weapons used by the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary were legal, one-third or more of gun sales remain unregulated in the secondary market, which includes not only the gun show loophole but also private sales between individuals.  NRA … why not address establishing a system of comprehensive background checks for gun purchasers?

The spirits of the twenty children killed last week will haunt us all this holiday season. It is unbelievable that the NRA’s response to the Sandy Hill tragedy is to arm more Americans. According to the NRA, the most effective way to protect against another horror like last week’s school shooting is … more guns.

The NRA’s failure to consider any meaningful gun regulations is offensive and is no way to honor the memories of the twenty-eight lives lost last week.

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A couple of related  gun and school safety items:

Alan Thomas, Main Line Media News, spoke with Tredyffrin’s Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo on the procedure for turning in a gun to the police department, read ‘Turning in a gun, how it’s done” for details.  According to Giaimo, to date for 2012, there have been 6 guns turned in, none of which were assault weapons.

In response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, the T/E School District has scheduled a ‘Community Meeting on School Safety’ for Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 7 PM at the Valley Forge Middle School auditorium.  The meeting will feature a panel of experienced safety experts including representatives from the Tredyffrin and Easttown police departments, District building architects and representatives from the District Safety Committee.

Tredyffrin Township Website Policy — Vote TONIGHT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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