Mimi Gleason

Tredyffrin Township Supervisors fire their Public Works Director, Scott Cannon over Environmental Violations

Last Friday, in the midst of the winter storm power outage, I received a curious email from Tredyffrin Township notifying of a special Board of Supervisors meeting for Monday night. There was only one item listed on the special meeting agenda – ‘personnel matter’.

Rather than attend the scheduled T/E School District Finance meeting, I choose the BOS meeting.  Sitting in the back of Keene Hall was Scott Cannon, Public Works Director along with Hillary Mallory, Parks & Recreation Director and Mimi Gleason, former Township Manager.

After the pledge of allegiance and a brief update on the power outage, BOS Chair Mike Heaberg asked for a motion to terminate the employment of Scott Cannon, Director of Public Works.  John DiBuonaventuro made the motion, Mark Freed seconded it and with a unanimous vote of 6-0 the motion passed – Scott Cannon terminated.

Having only worked for the township for a little over 2 years, why was Scott Cannon terminated?  Following the vote to terminate Cannon’s employment, Heaberg read a prepared statement.

The recommendation for Cannon’s termination was from the township manager Bill Martin.  After an investigation, Martin based his recommendation to terminate Cannon on several acts of misperformance including:

  1. Cannon engaged in conduct and directed vendors and subordinates involving two instances of improper disposal of materials on Township property in a manner prohibited by PA environmental law. (The locations are not accessible by the public, have been identified by DEP, and cannot be identified until the investigation is completed).
  2. In the fourth quarter of 2013, Cannon engaged certain contractors to provide goods/services to the Township in violation of the procurement procedures. In every incident of impropriety, the work was performed at a cost that was appropriate.

Heaberg noted that the township’s existing internal controls and procedures revealed the irregularities and Martin learned of the environmental violations on January 24.  Martin immediately notified Heaberg.  Following meetings with Heaberg, Martin, township solicitor Vince Donohue and members of the Personnel Committee, Cannon was put on paid administrative leave on Monday, January 27.  On that same day, the Police Department conducted a personnel investigation and Donohue contacted DEP and reported environmental violations.  The township is committed to providing complete cooperation to the DEP Bureau of Investigation.

The township’s investigation by the Police Department is ongoing but sufficient information was provided to support Martin’s recommendation to terminate Cannon.  As the investigation developed, Martin suspended Cannon without pay effective February 3 and notified him that he would seek approval from BOS tonight to terminate his employment.

As follow-up to the environmental violations, the township has hired Sovereign Consulting to conduct testing of the affected areas with oversight from DEP.  Further investigation is being done by the DEP and the township police are working with the Chester County Detectives. Additional training is being provided to department heads and the township is reviewing policies and commissioning an internal audit.

As I sat there listening to Heaberg’s press release detailing Cannon’s firing, my minded drifted to the Harry Marrone township scandal in 2005.  Remember – Marrone was the township’s Finance Director and over a period of 3 years stole $75,000.  He was caught when it was discovered that he was using Township checks to pay the property taxes on his Jersey Shore house.  The investigation also revealed that a personal leave of absence taken by Marrone actually had him in the midwest in a Federal penitentiary serving time for tax invasion.  At the time Marrone was arrested, he had worked for the township for over 12 years and was 70 years old.  It should be noted that Marrone did make full restitution to the township.

Cannon’s situation is different – for restitution purposes, how do you put a price tag on environmental violations? I suppose if the DEP fined the Township, there could be a basis for a financial settlement between the Township and Cannon.  The Township hired Cannon in November 2011, when Mimi Gleason was township manager – to my knowledge, since her resignation from Tredyffrin Township, she has never attended a BOS meeting, until tonight.  Cannon was not represented at the BOS meeting by an attorney, did not make a public statement, nor did anyone his behalf.

Obviously, the township needs to immediately find another Public Works Director. This could not come at a worse time with severe winter storms, power outages, downed trees, closed roads and the recent sewer break in Valley Forge Park.  It is my understanding, that following Cannon’s suspension (and now termination) Dean Wilkins, Public Works Foreman is acting director of the department.  With the nor easterner and a foot of snow predicted for Thursday, Wilkins and the township’s public works employees have their work cut out for themselves.  I know that Dean and his guys are up for the challenge – thank you in advance from a grateful resident!

Tredyffrin Township’s Proposed 2013 Preliminary Budget Indicates 5.5% Tax Increase

The proposed preliminary 2013 budget was unveiled at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to a sparse audience – I didn’t count but there must have been fewer than a dozen residents in the attendance.  As stated in an earlier post, three of the seven members of the Board of Supervisors were absent from the BOS meeting, including Chair Michelle Kichline, Vice Chair John DiBuonaventuro and Phil Donahue.  Supervisor Paul Olson presided over the meeting as acting chair.

Acting Township Manager (and Finance Director) Tim Klarich presented the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, which includes a 5.5% tax increase, from 2.308 to 2.435 mills. Supervisor Mike Heaberg was the only representative from the Finance Committee in attendance at the BOS meeting and assisted Klarich with questions on the proposed preliminary budget.

According to Klarich, the 2013 expenses are slightly lower than the 2013 budget, but 7% higher than the 2012 forecast.  I noted that the 2012 forecast is more than $1M lower than the budget for 2012 due to vacancies and a mild winter.   The proposed 2013 budget indicates that the greatest expense increase next year, at 69%, is in salary and benefits category.  The 2012 budgeted salary and benefits at $11.4 million, however due primarily to unfilled vacancies the forecasted 2012 amount is $10.7 million.  Budgeted for 2013 in salary and benefits is $11.5 million which indicates the 69% increase. Currently there are 13 vacancies in the township, with the township manager vacancy to be filled shortly.  As to how many of the remaining 12 vacancies are to be filled in 2013, I am not certain. In the reviewing the proposed preliminary 2013 budget, it appears that there are police vacancies that will not be filled.

An open issue that I hope will be addressed prior to finalizing the 2013 budget is the results from the police department staffing study.  If you recall, this $49K consulting study was discussed at the June BOS meeting and then approved 6-1 at the July BOS meeting.  The one dissenting supervisor vote  was from John DiBuonaventuro; his non-support of the support of the study was that he thought that the money could be better spent on bringing the staff level in the department up to projected 47 officers (from the current 41 officers as of July 2012) or for police department equipment.  Police Supt Tony Giaimo appeared to supportive but asked that the consultant expedite the study and that the final report take less than 125 days.(Presumably, so that the results would assist in the 2013 budget decisions).  The consulting contract was approved in July, so it would seem that there should be results by this point.

However, based on the response given by Klarich and Supervisor Heaberg at Wednesday’s BOS meeting, it appears that the results will not be public prior to the Nov. 17 BOS meeting, when the final  preliminary 2013 budget is presented.  To be clear, I do not like the idea of paying more taxes (5.5% tax increase proposed) but I am more troubled that this tax increase may not include filling all police department vacancies.

 Is it my imagination or lately does there appear to be an increase in crime (auto, house break-ins, and robberies) in Tredyffrin and some of which have occurred in broad daylight?  So, if this is correct and that there is an increase in crime, how is it that the township can consider decreasing the size of the police department?  If anything, wouldn’t an increase in crime suggest the need for an increase in the police department? I would think that the report from this $49K police department staffing study would be vital to understanding the police department needs so that the BOS can make an informed decision for the 2013 budget.

According to Klarich without a real estate tax increase, the 2013 revenue be flat compared to 2012.  With the proposed 5.5% tax increase, 2013 revenue is 3% higher than 2012. Klarich explained that the four General Fund changes in 2013 are: (1) staffing and compensation; (2) Retiree medical funding; (3) Repair and maintenance funding and (4) Real estate tax increase.

According to the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, some (but not all) of the vacancies will be filled. Again, I am unclear how many vacancies will remain unfilled in 2013 and of those that remain unfilled; exactly how many are in the police department. There is a new health care plan that will save money but as Klarich explained, the new plan cannot be put into place until the police arbitration is completed.  He spoke as if arbitration may be close to resolution but will be it in time for the budget approval – I do not know.  There are raises in the 2013 budget – per contract and merit-based raises and bonuses for non-union staff.  There was no background information provided on the formula for bonuses/merit-based raises.  I would like to understand the criteria for employee bonuses.

Tredyffrin Township’s unfunded liability of retiree medical funding currently stands at $40M; $31M from uniformed retirees and employees and $9M from non-uniformed retirees and eligible employees.  The non-uniformed union has agreed to changes but as Klarich again points out, the police department remains in arbitration so any possible changes that could help in the future are unknown at this time.  Klarich explained that it is recommended that $2M should be budgeted annually to ‘buy down’ the $4M unfunded liability.  In 2012, the budgeted amount was $250K and Klarich has budgeted $500K for 2013. At a rate of $500K per year, it will take the township 80 years to pay off this debit (and that assumes that the unfunded liability does not continue to increase.)

Here are some highlights in the repair and maintenance expense category contained in the proposed 2013 preliminary budget – – an increase of $114,500 for streets drainage.  Considering only $15K was budgeted for street drainage in 2012, this is no doubt an increase that is long overdue.  Building maintenance was budgeted in 2012 at $76K but has been increased by $63,320 in the proposed 2013 budget for a total of $139,320. No details offered  as what is included in the $139K line item, AC/heating system for township building, repair of township building front steps??  I was disappointed to see that the proposed 2013 preliminary budget decreases maintenance in the township parks from $50K to $46,600.  If anything, I think that Wilson Farm Park could use additional funding not less.

Real estate tax generates ½ of the General  Fund revenue.  Real estate tax is based on the assessed value of properties as set by Chester County. Tredyffrin’s tax base was only growing marginally before the recession, due to little development.  Unfortunately, since 2009 the tax base has been declining, primarily based on successful assessment appeals.  Therefore, it stands to reason that without a tax increase, the revenue will continue to decrease.

The proposed 5.5% tax increase for 2013 includes 3.1% increase in funding for the unfunded medical long-term obligations (doubling the $250K contribution budgeted in 2012 to $500K  for 2013 – remember, the current outstanding debt obligation is $40 million!) and 2.4% increased funding for services ( $198K increase).  The proposed 5.5% tax increase equates to a $448K increase in the $16.7M budget.

Following the presentation of the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, residents Carol and Raymond Clarke asked whether there would be public budget workshops, as held in previous years.  There were also questions about a budget summary as former township manager Mimi Gleason prepared in prior years. If you recall, Gleason remained on as a consultant to the township after her resignation, primarily to assist Klarich and the other township department heads with the 2013 budget.  The Clarke’s and other audience members were looking for background and supporting information behind the preliminary budget numbers. Supervisor and Finance Committee member Heaberg suggested that he would be available to discuss the budget with individual citizens.  However, to the credit of Carol Clarke, she requested a public meeting so that all citizens with budget questions could attend.

Kudos to Carol for her follow- up with Heaberg; as a result, a public meeting to discuss the proposed 2013 preliminary budget is scheduled for Tuesday, November 13, 8:30 AM at the township building. If you have questions about the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, you are encouraged to attend.

The timeline for the 2013 township budget is for the BOS to approve the preliminary budget  November 19 and to approve the final budget December 17, with a public hearing on either December 17 or January 2 to adopt the real estate tax increase. I do not recall a public hearing last year, regarding the 2012 tax increase. Someone help me here – was there a public hearing for the tax increase of 2012 and I am simply not recalling it?

In case you forgot, the preliminary budget for 2012 included a 6.9% increase which was ultimately revised downward (and approved) to a 3.5% tax increase.  The township amended the 2012 preliminary budget by reducing professional fees, decreasing funding for IT, department expense reductions and deferring the equivalent of two police officers’ salaries and benefits until July 1, 2012.  Holding off hiring of two police officer’s for 6 months added $127,400 to the overall budget expense reduction.  Unfortunately, it looks like the 2013 budget may also going to include a decrease in the police department staff … stay tuned.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending First Amendment Rights in Tredyffrin Township

It has been 8+  weeks, since Tredyffrin Township Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro wrote and posted his September 5, 2012 letter to the citizens on the township website. (click here to read the letter). Over the last 2 months, I continue to receive phone calls, emails and have had many discussions with residents that are troubled and concerned about DiBuonaventuro’s letter and use of government letterhead, government website and government resources for his personal attack of traditional news sources as well a private citizen, who dare to question our government. Subsequent to September 5th, we have learned that DiBuonaventuro’s personal letter and use of government resources, was apparently sanctioned and approved by former township manager Mimi Gleason, township solicitor Vince Donahue and the other six members of the Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors.

At the September 17, 2012 Board of Supervisors meeting, I read a personal statement (click here for Community Matters post and links to BOS meeting and statement) which addressed DiBuonaventuro’s letter and subsequent email and joint phone call from the township manager and police chief on this topic.

When the framers of our Constitution insisted on Freedom of Speech rights, one of their aims was so that all Americans – no matter their social class or position in our society – could vigorously examine and criticize our government. These rights have throughout our history nurtured our democracy and made us a beacon to the whole world. However, as history has played out, the battle for these rights has proven at times to be hard-won rights that we have to continually fight for and renew.  First Amendment rights are a cornerstone to this nation’s government and citizens have a right to discuss issues that are of importance.  The freedom is speech is in place for all of us – including the citizens of Tredyffrin Township.  Further, freedom of speech includes ‘me’ as a citizen and Community Matters.

In 1996, Pennsylvania federal judge Stewart Dalzell, wrote his opinion in the ACLU v. Reno, the Internet – Freedom of Speech case, “As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from government intrusion. It also deserves a great deal of attention from civil liberties activists who are concerned about free speech, privacy, and universal access – because the larger the scale of a new medium, the greater the temptation to restrict it.”  As background, Dalzell, a 1969 graduate of Penn Law School, was recommended by Pennsylvania Senators Heinz and Spector and nominated by President George Bush to fill a judicial vacancy on the federal bench in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1990. He was confirmed by the Senate in 1991.

The last couple of months since DiBuonaventuro’s September 5 letter appeared on the township website have given me time to reflect.  Because all township supervisors, the former township manager and township solicitor supported DiBuonaventuro’s letter and use of the government letterhead and resources, I knew that I needed to take a stand for First Amendment rights in Tredyffrin Township.  If an elected official is permitted to use the public website whenever they disagree with a news story, what’s next for the citizens of Tredyffrin Township? Where will it stop?  What recourse do citizens have — we are not permitted the use of the township website to defend ourselves.  The end result … a chilling effect intended to silence all those who disagree.

To be clear, DiBuonaventuro is entitled to his own freedom of speech; he has every right to explain himself, defend, etc. He could write a letter to the editor, make a comment on Community Matters, etc. etc. — I simply do not think it is OK to use Government resources for a personal matter by an elected official.

As a result of the September 5, 2012 letter written by township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro, using the government letterhead, government website and government resources, I sought legal counsel and have retained the services of attorney Samuel Stretton.  The following letter from Stretton dated October 25, 2012 was mailed to each member of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors. To date, there has been no response.

October 25, 2012

Michelle H. Kichline, Chair
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

John P. DiBuonaventuro, Vice Chair
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Philip Donahue
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Michael C. Heaberg
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Kristen K. Mayock
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Paul W. Olson
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Evelyn Richter
Board of Supervisors, Tredyffrin Township
1100 Duportail Road
Berwyn, PA 19312-1079

Dear Supervisors:

Please be advised I have been retained by Pattye Benson, in reference to a letter of September 5, 2012 written by Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro. This letter was posted on the Tredyffrin Township website.  This letter was done on the letterhead of the Board of Supervisors.  Attached and marked as Exhibit “A” is a copy of the September 5th letter.

This letter of Mr. DiBuonaventuro, in effect, used Government funds, Government letterhead, and a Government website to respond to a private blog on his personal issues. I believe it is entirely inappropriate to allow a Government official to use Government resources to respond to matters involving his personal conduct.  I understand there was and is no policy as to the use of the government website and the expenditure of government funds.

I am asking that this Board immediately adopt a policy so this sort of misconduct and abuse of the First Amendment will not occur again.  I am also asking that an apology be placed on the website. Further, I am asking that the letter be rejected by the Board as inappropriate to be placed on the township website.

Further, the letter is inaccurate. The blog “Community Matters” is written by Ms. Benson to raise important community issues. The blog at issue concerned the conduct of the Tredyffrin Township Police Department in not appearing at the two criminal hearings for a member of the Zoning Board. There were two different cases, and both were set for the same day.  Coincidentally, neither officer appeared on that day, resulting in the cases being discharged. The failure to appear by two officers was surprising since the Tredyffrin police officers are known to always appear at criminal hearings. Clearly, the failure to appear raised some questions.

The blog “Community Matters” also raised the question about one of the supervisors and his relationship with the Zoning Board member. These are valid issues of public discussion and concern.

The letter, which is dated September 5, 2012, from Supervisor DiBuonaventuro, is essentially a personal attack on Ms. Benson, supposedly defending himself. This type of personal letter has no place on the Board of Supervisors letterhead and no place on the township website.

What is particularly disturbing is the last paragraph on the first page where Mr. DiBuonaventuro, using Government resources, Government letterhead, and the Government website, criticizes legitimate discussions of public business. He calls this a “disturbing trend”. He utilized the Government website to bully “Community Matters” and others.

This conduct, using Government resources to respond to those who speak out or discuss Government issues is unacceptable and should be disavowed by the Government immediately. If Mr. DiBuonaventuro is not able to accept public criticism, he ought to resign as Supervisor. Those who choose to hold public office have my respect.  But as part of serving, one has to understand there will be differences of opinion, which should be welcomed as part of the public discussions. To utilize the platform of the Government website and Government letterhead to try to bully bloggers is totally unacceptable and foreign to the First Amendment.

This improper website use and letter has to be put in the context that my client then received a phone call from the Township Manager with the Police Chief on the same line. Clearly, such a tactic has the effect of chilling legitimate speech.

Further, when Ms. Benson spoke to the Township Manager about the letter, the response was an email dated September 7th to Ms. Benson criticizing her and supporting the use of public resources of the Supervisor without approval to criticize public comments.

It is a sad day if the Government resources can be used by Supervisors to defend their own personal issues. But it is a sadder day when the Government resources and the authority of the Government is used to try to chill First Amendment discussions.

I am requesting an apology to Ms. Benson and I ask that a policy be put in place to prevent Government resources to be used for individuals to express their personal dislike or disagreement of articles. It is unacceptable that an individual can use the power of Government to try to bully and prevent legitimate discussions of questionable conduct by Government officials.  I will await your advice. I hope to have a response in the next 7 days.

Very truly yours,

Samuel C. Stretton

A Township Resident is Tredyffrin’s New Township Manager

Although there were only 9 residents at tonight’s Board of Supervisors meeting there is significant news to report.  Chair Michelle Kichline reported that the township has hired Bill Martin as Tredyffrin’s new township manager, effective November 19.

Martin comes to Tredyffrin Township from Bridgeport where he has served as their Borough Manager since September 2011. Martin started his career in Nassau County (New York) as a Legislative Assistant.  In 2001, he focused his career in local government with Radnor Township, serving as Assistant Finance Director.  For the ten years he was in Radnor, Martin served in many different capacities from Acting Finance Director, Right to Know Officer, Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator, Director of Administrative Services, Interim Director of Community Development, and Assistant Township Manager to Acting Township Manger.  He left Radnor Township to become Bridgeport Borough Manager last year. Martin received a BA and MBA from Villanova University and here’s the best part … he is a Tredyffrin Township resident!  Martin could be the first township manager to live in the township, which I for one think should always be a requirement!

In other news, Kichline reported that she had delegated the task of drafting a website policy to Phil Donahue. She explained that Donohue is seriously ill in the hospital, having had surgery today.  I don’t have any further details but I know that you join me in wishing him a speedy and full recovery.  Because of the illness, Kichline explained that she will draft the website policy and expects to make it public next month.  Having been on the receiving end of what I believe was the misuse of the township website (and taxpayer dollars) by supervisor John DiBuonaventuro, I am hopeful that the new policy will stop anything similar in the future.

Six months ago, at the April Board of Supervisors meeting, I asked for an update on the status of the sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club.  At that point, it appeared that the sidewalks were finally going in with the necessary advance tree removal completed.  Tonight Steve Burgo explained to me that due to the delay in the project, St. Davids had to update their permit with PennDOT before sending it out to bid. Unfortunately, this was exactly the same response that I received last April.  I asked for follow-up and an update at the November supervisors meeting.

I inquired about Mimi Gleason’s consulting contract with the township and if there was an expected end date.  According to Mike Heaberg, to date Gleason has worked approximately 50 hours under the new consulting contract, which he pointed out was less than what she would have been paid as township manager.  It is expected that Gleason will work through the transition of Bill Martin starting as township manager next month.  It appears that Gleason will be only working with the township a few days beyond Martin’s start date.  I also asked about Gleason’s healthcare benefits – according to Tim Klarich, her township healthcare benefits ended September 30th.

That’s the highlights from the Board of Supervisors meeting.  Tonight the School Board directors voted on the teacher’s contract so I look forward to hearing those details.

A Job May Not be a Life but … Maybe Consulting at $125/hr Is!

After tendering her resignation as township manager back on July 17, in a Community Matters post, “… I asked Mimi Gleason why she was resigning – was it another job? No, she is not leaving Tredyffrin for another job. In fact, her explanation for the resignation was actually quite simple … ‘A job is not a life’. She went on to explain that she is uncertain about what she wants to do, but knows that she wants to do something different and to work less. Her plans after September 17 include taking a few months off from work, visiting friends around the country during the fall and her annual trip to Hawaii in January.”

Curious if there was any way that she would extend her employment past the September 17 deadline, I asked her that question. Her response, was an emphatic “no”, her mind was made up.  Well, as we learned at the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, her mind was not made up.  With a unanimous vote, the Board of Supervisors approved a consulting contract for Gleason, effective immediately.  There was no disclosure from the supervisors as to the specifics of the contract, i.e. salary, hours, etc. though BOS chair Michelle Kichline did say that Gleason would be helping the township until sometime after a new township manager was appointed and that the former township manager would not have direct contact with the public.  On a personal note, as probably one of Gleason’s final contacts with a private citizen, both in email and via her phone call to me of September 14, I completely support that aspect of the contract!

By the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, 2 months had passed since Gleason’s letter of resignation, but no replacement township manager had been appointed. If you recall with Tom Scott’s departure as assistant township manager, that position was eliminated.  In the interim, township Finance Director Tim Klarich was appointed at the September 17 BOS meeting to serve as acting township manager until a replacement township manager was appointed.

Without details of Gleason’s contract by the Board of Supervisors, several residents asked me about the contract, her consulting fee, the timeline, etc.  On September 23, I sent the township a ‘right-to-know request’, asking for the contract and any related correspondence.  After a legal review of my request, I received Gleason’s proposal dated August 28 and the signed consulting contract dated September 17 this past Friday.  (If you click on the contract, do not be put-off by the 29 pages, the attorney Robert McClintock, Lamb McErlane, included several copies of the contract in the pdf.  I am unclear as to why multiple unsigned copies; perhaps they contain small changes, but regardless, go to the end of the document to find the signed and dated version.)

For those experienced in reading contracts, I encourage additional commentary. Below, I offer highlights of Gleason’s proposal and contract:

  • Assist staff in development of 2013 budget & 5-year plan
  • Analyze budget alternatives
  • Available to meet with supervisors, finance committee
  • Assist with BOS meeting preparation
  • Assist with collective bargaining agreements if needed
  • Hourly rate $125, billed monthly to township
  • Work 10-15 hours per week, with notice may work more
  • Will assist new township manager with transition

Working as an independent contractor, Gleason’s consulting contract commenced September 23, no end date assigned. According to the terms of the contract, the township has the right to terminate the agreement with 10 days written notice. Going forward, the agreement may be amended with mutual agreement of Gleason and the township.

Going back to Gleason’s comment to me of July 17 that, “a job is not a life”.  Although a job may not be a life, apparently consulting may be the ticket to life.  A couple of people, who attended her retirement party last month, reported that  Gleason’s consulting plans go beyond helping Tredyffrin Township.  According to these sources, Gleason intends to take her land development expertise and offer those skills to other municipalities as a consultant.

I always thought that Gleason’s continued involvement and intense personal interest in the outcome of the recent C-1 zoning change to permit assisted living at Daylesford, past her notice to resign somewhat strange.  It is interesting to note that her last day of township employment had Gleason at the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting and witness to the 7-1 supervisors vote to approve the C-1 zoning change.  Now, I get the connection.  Though many township residents opposed the C-1 zoning change, Gleason can now point to this success when negotiating her consulting services with other townships.  I guess the same applies for the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay district ordinance change and her involvement in that zoning change.

Having served 10 years in Tredyffrin Township government, Gleason is fully vested and receives a pension.  In addition to the pension, it is my understanding that she will receive healthcare benefits for life. Pension, healthcare coverage and consulting jobs, looks like Gleason had bigger plans than our July 18 conversation following her resignation would have suggested.  According to Gleason, ‘a job may not be a life’ but apparently consulting is.

Does a Private Citizen Have Civil Rights in Tredyffrin Township?

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

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

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

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

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

To watch my BOS personal statement, click here.

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

Pattye Benson
Personal Statement
September 17, 2012

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

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

Let me share that September 15 email with you.

Dear Ms. Gleason,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Pattye Benson

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

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

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

Can we question our government?

Do we dare to have an opinion?

I believe that ALL our voices matter.

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, a few miscellaneous items I jotted down:

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

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

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

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

Chester County Planning Commission Comments Reflect the Views of Many Tredyffrin Residents … Will the Board of Supervisors Listen

As follow-up to my Community Matters post of July 20,Tredyffrin’s Proposed C1 Zoning Amendment Change … Where do we go from here’, here’s the latest installment in the continuing saga of the proposed C-1 zoning ordinance change to permit assisted living facilities. Although the proposed C-1 zoning ordinance change would permit assisted living as a ‘by-right’ use for all C-1 township properties, the focus is on the 1-acre Jimmy Duffy property on Lancaster Ave in Daylesford.

Tredyffrin Township’s proposed C-1 zoning ordinance amendment (below),

“A residential care facility for older persons providing permanent residential accommodations and/or assisted living facilities/services (and supplemental services) as defined in the applicable Pennsylvania state statutes, rules and regulations along with support services, which may include, but not limited to: personal care and health care services, medical services, skilled nursing, community facilities, and congregate dining facilities; provided that the property shall have direct access to an arterial street.”

was sent to the Chester County Planning Commission for review on July 5 and this past week Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission received their comments/remarks. (Click here to read the CCPC response).

Although we were told that is procedurally OK that the township sent the proposed zoning ordinance amendment to Chester County Planning Commission, it struck some of the residents (myself included) rather pre-emptive to ask for comments from the county in advance of our own Planning Commission giving their ‘thumbs-up or thumbs-down’ on the amendment.  As many Daylesford neighbors and other township residents have repeatedly commented, the proposed zoning ordinance amendment needs restrictions/requirements attached to it.

Reading the comments on Tredyffrin’s proposed C-1 zoning amendment change, it is apparent that the Chester County Planning Commission echos concerns of many township residents.  The official response from the county, offered the following comments in regards to the proposed C-1 zoning amendment change:

  1. The proposed zoning amendment does not appear to be consistent with the Township’s land use policies as currently written.
  2. The proposed zoning amendment does not appear to be consistent with the goals and objectives specified on page 67 of Tredyffrin’s Comprehensive plan.
  3. The proposed zoning amendment does not appear to be consistent with the purpose statement of the C-1 Commercial District, which, according to Section 208-64, is “designed to encourage and provide for attractive, company, retail convenience-type commercial development in locations close to the residents served”.
  4. Residential care facilities are currently permitted by conditional use in the IO Institutional Overlay District with specified bulk, height and buffer regulations.
  5. Other Chester County municipalities address assisted living facilities utilizing conditional use in medium to high-density residential or institutional zoning areas.
  6. Assisted living facilities are not found in any other Chester County Commercial zoning districts.

If I did not know better, it would seem as if the Chester County Planning Commission were audience members at Tredyffrin’s supervisor and Planning Commission meetings.  Every one of the points that the Chester County Planning Commission presented in their review of the township’s proposed C-1 ordinance amendment have been made repeatedly during the last several months by  township residents.

The Chester County Planning Commission summarizes their remarks by stating, “Tredyffrin Township should consider the comments contained in this review before taking action on the proposed zoning ordinance amendment.”  Well, … by their comments, it appears to me that Chester County Planning Commission is suggesting that assisted living facilities should not be in Tredyffrin’s C-1 zoning districts.  My understanding of their comments appears to suggest that clarity is needed from the township with respect to restrictions and regulations.

Here’s an interesting point to consider – although the Chester County Planning Commission looks to be in complete agreement with many of the township residents opposing the proposed C-1 zoning ordinance amendment change, their opinion will not decide the matter.  Members of Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission, and ultimately the Board of Supervisors, will have the final say on whether assisted living facilities become a ‘by-right use’  in all C-1 zoning districts.  Should the supervisors approve this proposed zoning ordinance amendment change, they will also decide whether to add any restrictions to the ordinance, such as bed density, height, buffer requirements, etc.

Although not a legal requirement for our Planning Commissioners or supervisors to give any credence to Chester County’s recommendations on the proposed C-1 zoning amendment change, I would hope that they seriously consider these comments in advance of the next Planning Commission meeting on August 16.

Ed Morris, the developer eyeing the Jimmy Duffy site for an assisted living facility, will need the C-1 zoning amendment change to move forward.  It was Denise Yarnoff, Morris’ attorney, who wrote the township’s proposed amendment change.  We learned at the last Planning Commission meeting that the applicant’s attorney agreed to add restrictions to the proposed amendment and re-submit for the August Planning Commission meeting.  We have been told that there is nothing wrong with the applicant’s attorney writing the proposed amendment but where does it end?  After Yarnoff created the draft amendment, I think it needs to be the responsibility of our Planning Commissioners and/or township staff to add any additional requirements or restrictions.  I am troubled that the re-write of Tredyffrin Township’s proposed zoning ordinance amendment is in the hands of the applicant’s attorney … just doesn’t feel right to me.

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