Paul Olson

What do the sidewalks at St. Davids and Former Police Chief Andy Chambers have in common?

What do the St. Davids sidewalks and former Police Chief Andy Chambers have in common? There is an eerie similarity between a vote of the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors on January 25, 2010 and a recent T/E School Board vote of January 7.

January 25, 2010 BOS Meeting:  Even though there was a signed land development agreement between Tredyffrin Township and St. Davids Golf Club requiring sidewalks, the Tredyffrin’s supervisors approved the return of $25K escrow money to the country club; removing the sidewalk agreement. Besides suggested Home Rule Charter violations surrounding the return of the escrow money, there was the procedural problem that the proposal had not appeared on the BOS meeting’agenda.  Against the objections of many residents and some of the supervisors, the motion carried 4-3.  For the record, Bob Lamina, Paul Olson, Warren Kampf and EJ Richter voted in favor of the motion and Michelle Kichline, Phil Donohue and John DiBuonaventuro voted against the motion.

After much media publicity, many letters to the editor, accusations of Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act violations, claims of deal-making and general resident outrage, the supervisors reversed and rescinded their decision at the following Board of Supervisors meeting in March 2010.  Public comment is guaranteed by the Sunshine Act and the public’s rights were violated by the St. Davids sidewalk vote of January 25, 2010.

Fast forward to January 7, 2013:  Instead of the township failing to notify the public of an intended motion on its meeting agenda, it was the T/E School Board who failed to notify the public.  On January 7, the Board held a special meeting for the primary purpose to consider the 2013-14 preliminary budget proposal.  At the meeting, the School Board voted to apply for Act 1 exceptions beyond the 1.7% allowable tax cap.

A consent agenda listed on the January 7 meeting agenda included the approval of December 3 meeting minutes, monthly financial reports, routine personnel actions, etc. but made no mention of anything safety-related such as enhancements or the hiring of a District safety consultant. However, as we later learned, the hiring of former police chief Andy Chambers as the District Security Consultant (hourly rate – $125) was approved …  as it was ‘last-minute’ included along with the other items in the consent agenda. The agenda did not notify the public that the School Board would discuss anything safety-related at the special meeting, let alone the hiring of a ‘security consultant’.

Someone needs to explain to me how the actions of the School Board on January 7 are any different from the actions of the Board of Supervisors of January 25, 2010.  Both of these examples speak to the process of our government. The fact is that the Board of Supervisors vote of two years ago was not about sidewalks in the same way that the School Board’s vote of January 7 is not about the hiring of Andy Chambers as the District’s security consultant.  Rather, it is about transparency and open meetings; the basis for positive discussions between citizens and their elected officials.  Government decisions should not be made in secret.

The Sunshine Act defines when government bodies must conduct official business in public and private, when they should allow public comment, and how and when to advertise meetings. Executive closed meetings can only be called for the following six reasons:

  • Discussions of matters involving employment or performance of officers or employees of the agency, provided that any affected individual is given the opportunity to request, in writing, that the meeting be held in public.
  • Meetings involving collective bargaining, labor relations, and arbitration.
  • To consider the purchase or lease of real property.
  • matters falling under the attorney-client privilege regarding litigation or issues where an identifiable complaint is expected to be filed.
  • To discuss agency business which, if discussed in public, would lead to the disclosure of information protected by law, including ongoing investigations and information exempt under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know
  • To discuss matters of academic standing or admission at state schools

Responding to follow-up comments on the topic of the Sunshine Act, Keith Knauss, school board member of the Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCF) offered this comment on Community Matters —

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. If the board met in executive session and deliberated on hiring Mr. Chambers, then they probably violated the Sunshine Act even though the official vote was taken in open session. It doesn’t matter if it is a contract or not. We’re conjecturing that the board deliberated (illegally) in executive session and based on that deliberation, took an official action to disburse funds to Mr. Chambers. We, of course, can only conjecture since the meeting was closed to the public.
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The current Sunshine Act took effect on January 3, 1987. This law replaces the old Open Meetings Laws of 1957 and 1974, Under the old law, public agencies were required to hold open meetings only if votes were taken or official policy adopted. This led to the frequent abuse of discussing and deciding issues in so-called “workshop” sessions, with the official public meetings being relegated to conducting formal votes on issues already decided in advance. The current Act requires that any deliberations leading up to official actions also take place at public meetings. Municipal governing bodies have no authority, either under the municipal codes or the Sunshine Act, to conduct “workshop” sessions.’

Question … At the upcoming January 28 School Board meeting, will the Board take responsibility for their January 7 action and reverse their decision to hire Andy Chambers as the District Security Consultant?

If the Board understands the Sunshine Act, and supports the importance of open meetings, the choice they make on January 28 will be simple.  The Board accepts responsibility for the situation and takes the necessary steps to correct the situation; reversing the decision and then appropriately advertising the matter for public discussion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Defending First Amendment Rights in Tredyffrin Township

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Supervisors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very truly yours,

Samuel C. Stretton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear DNA Members and Tredyffrin Residents,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards,

Trisha Larkin

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Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors – ‘Team Players’ and TESD Budget Discussions Get Underway

As is often the case, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting conflicted with the TESD Board meeting last night.  I attended the BOS meeting and Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting and graciously offered his comments from the meeting.

The Board of Supervisors meeting saw the swearing-in of four supervisors —  Paul Olson and JD DiBuonaventuro returning for new 4-year terms, Mike Heaberg starting his first full-term and newly elected Kristen Mayock joining them.  Although rumored over the past few weeks, it was probably still a surprise to some that Michelle Kichline was named ‘Chair’ and JD as ‘Vice Chair’ of the Board of Supervisors.  The board members themselves nominate and vote on these positions and traditionally, these positions go to the longer serving members of the Board of Supervisors.  However, in this case, Michelle received the unanimous support of her fellow board members for the chair position after serving only 2 years as a supervisor and neither as a vice chair. Congratulations to her and to JD as Vice Chair.

It was obvious from the moment that Michelle was named chair that there is going to be a distinctly different tone to the Board of Supervisors – starting with gifts for freshmen supervisor Kristen Mayock and for Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Township’s former solicitor and newly elected Chester County District Attorney.

Michelle made a special point in describing the qualifications and strengths of  each of her fellow supervisors and described the Board of Supervisors as members of the ‘team’ and here to serve all the people.  This team approach and sense of community could provide a winning combination for moving the township forward in 2012.  There have been some missteps by Board members in the past and we know the Board is faced with some unfinished business from 2011, so here’s hoping this upward movement and spirit of cooperation continues.

As I said, Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting last night and provides us with some interesting notes below.  He mentions the Catholic Schoolclosings and the possible effect this could have on T/E school district.  I was surprised to learn that T/E has 600 students who attend Catholic Schools.  My guess is that the Catholic school closings may not affect many of these students as it is unlikely that schools which typically draw TESD students like Villa Maria, St. Monica’s, Devon Prep, Malvern Prep and Archbishop Carroll would be on the ‘closing school list’.  Nevertheless, this is another dynamic to consider in the school district budget discussions.

TESD Notes from Ray Clarke:

A fair turnout (~50?) for the TESD Board meeting on Monday. They voted 7-2 to apply for Exceptions that allow a property tax increase of 1.6% on top of the 1.7% increase allowed by the Act 1 Index. Much lip service paid to the fact that this was not a vote to actually increase taxes by that amount, although we do know how that works. Brake and Mercogliano were the two dissenters, with the former articulating the danger of the incremental policy-making that will just give us over the next ten years the 50% tax increase we had over the last ten. He wants to give taxpayers a break. He was also the only one to give a realistic assessment ofHarrisburg’s view of PSERS: the options are to increase taxes or reduce benefits – and neither is going to get any political traction in the near future.

Let’s think about PSERS for a minute, because no one seems to be being objective here.

The state allows school districts to increase taxes to fund the increase in contribution to PSERS. Next year that tax increase is $0.94 million, the net PSERS expense increase about $1.1 million – pretty much one for one. That tax increase is about 1%. All the other cost increases ($4 to $5 million in 2012/13) are for things other than PSERS, yet all the school board could do was blame Harrisburg. The PSERS increases for the next two years are a little more (about $1.3 million a year), and then fall $0.7 million in 2015/16, then little changed for a decade or so, before tapering off. We can deal with a $4.4 million net increase in PSERS costs with a 5% tax increase over 4 years, and if we use the $15 million of fund balance set aside for that purpose, we can spread out that tax increase over twice the number of years.

No one wants to think objectively and long term likes this, because that would force attention on the issues within the District’s control:

  • Pay salaries and benefits that the taxpayers can afford
  • Get really rigorous with suppliers of all purchased supplies and services
  • Manage the cost of in-house services (like janitorial, maybe maintenance?) to market levels
  • Accelerate the hard look at nice-to-have things like the extra paid in-service days

Much commentary that about the cuts in FTEs, programs and costs in recent years, but none about where all the money saved has actually gone: employee compensation (and not yet PSERS, either).

It’s time to stop passing the buck!

One factor outside the district’s control, and which could have a major impact on costs: which Catholic schools will the closed, and what will that mean for TE enrollment? There are currently about 600 students living in TE that attend Catholic schools. It was stated that there is to be an announcement of the school closings on Friday.

Another observation: new Board member Kris Graham was a consistent pro-teacher advocate, and tried to invoke the hoary old chestnut that the homestead exemption offsets the property tax increase! Not recognizing that the exemption actually makes the property tax even more regressive. Because the exemption is a fixed amount, unchanged for many years now, the lower the assessed value the greater the effect of a given millage increase. The 3.3% tax increase is actually 3.5% for a home assessed at $150,000 that claims the homestead exemption.

And finally: it was notable that Mike Broadhurst showed his hand, advocating for keeping the janitorial out-sourcing option on the table, not “going too far” with tax increases so that “Harrisburg’s hand will be forced again”, questioning many of the projection model assumptions, and drawing attention to the hardly-new-news that the employee benefit cost is $1,040 per year for a family (but not completing the calculation to show that this is merely 1.2% of the median $85,000 teacher salary).

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Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors; I do solemnly swear . . .

I do solemnly swear . . .

Tonight at 7 PM, Tredyffrin Township will swear in four supervisors to the Board of Supervisors.  Incumbent Paul Olson (R), who narrowly beat his Democratic opponent  Tory Snyder in the general election, begins his new term as the most senior and longest-serving member of the Board of Supervisors.  John DiBuonaventuro (R) will be sworn in tonight for his second term as supervisor.  JD has the distinction of second longest-serving supervisor and ran as an uncontested candidate in the last election.  Mike Heaberg (R) will be sworn in for his first full term as a supervisor, having served on the Board in 2011 as an interim supervisor.  If you recall, Heaberg was appointed to fill the vacated seat of Warren Kampf, who resigned after winning his State House 157 election.  Heaberg won the special election in May; continuing to serve on the Board of Supervisors.

Newly elected to the Board of Supervisors in November’s general election, Kristen Mayock (R) will take her place on the dais among her fellow Republicans.  Kristen’s election to the Board leaves a vacancy on the township’s Zoning Hearing Board.  Supervisor Michele Kichline, also an attorney, served on the ZHB before her election to the Board of Supervisors.  It has been several years since there were three women serving together on the Board – it will be interesting to watch that dynamic at play.

Something else that the women on Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors share in common … Mayock, Kichline and EJ Richter are all TTGOP committeewomen.  Two years ago, (January 12, 2010) I wrote an article for Community Matters, “Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors – Some are Political Party Committee Members – is this OK?  Radnor Township  Says No for their Commissioners”.  

I have been open in my concerns related to political committee people who continue to serve in that capacity once elected to the Board of Supervisors.  As I stated in 2010, “… supervisors are elected to serve all the residents, and by remaining a committee person for a particular party, I would think that there is an appearance that a political committee person would ‘lean’ in the direction of their party.”

As was the case in 2010, of the seven members of Tredyffrin’s 2012 Board of Supervisors, we once again have three supervisors who are also TTGOP committee members (Kichline, Richter and Mayock).

Although Tredyffrin Township’s Home Rule Charter does not address this subject, neighboring Radnor Township, which also uses Home Rule Charter for their local government, is very clear on the topic and what they perceive is a conflict of interest:

From Radnor Township’s Home Rule Charter:

§ 21.9-904. Prohibitions.

 A. The activities which follow shall be prohibited in the operation of the Township government.

     3. Political Party Office. No Township official elected under this Charter, no appointed official, and no full-time Township employee shall hold any elected or appointed political party office.

Under the penalty section, Radnor’s Home Rule Charter further states:

  B. Violation of any provision of this Section shall constitute grounds for forfeiture of office, termination of appointment, or dismissal.

So . . .  do I expect supervisors Kichline, Richter and Mayock to step down from their TTGOP committee member positions?  No.  However, as we look ahead to tonight’s Board of Supervisors swearing-in ceremony, I do point to this information as cautionary.  Whether political committee members or not, I hope that all our supervisors appreciate that once elected, they are to represent and serve all of the residents of Tredyffrin Township, regardless of political party affiliations.

As the Board of Supervisors starts a new year of service to the community, I offer my best wishes for a successful 2012.

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Election Day 2011 is over . . . Looks like much will remain the same!

Election Day 2011 has now passed and the ‘unofficial’ results are in. The full results for all races can be found at the Chester County website, www.chesco.org. In reviewing the results, all incumbents prevailed in the supervisor and school board races. Other than Karen Cruickshank’s re-election as school board director, it was a clean sweep for the Republicans for the T/E School Board and Board of Supervisors.

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION I
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 2
JAMES D BRUCE (REP) . . . . . . . 1,443     25.33
TARA G LA FIURA (REP) . . . . . . 1,336     23.46
KAREN CRUICKSHANK (DEM) 1,635    28.70
JERRY HENIGE (DEM) . . . . . . . 1,280      22.47
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 2 .04

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION II
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 2
ELIZABETH A MERCOGLIANO (REP). . 2,416      25.71
KRIS GRAHAM (REP). . . . . . . .                2,428     25.84
JENNIFER LIGHTMAN WESSELS (DEM) . . .   2,322        24.71
SCOTT DORSEY (DEM) . . . . . . .                 2,229         23.72
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 1 .01

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION III
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
PETER MOTEL (REP). . . . . . . . 1,256     61.51
CRAIG A LEWIS (DEM) . . . . . . 785       38.44
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 1 .05

Karen Cruickshank (D, Jim Bruce (R) and Pete Motel (R) were re-elected for TESD Region 1 and Liz Mercogliano (R) and Kris Graham (R) were elected for TESD Region II. In Region III, incumbent Pete Motel won by a significant margin against his opponent. If you recall from the school board debate, the candidate who made personal attacks was Craig Lewis against Pete Motel. Maybe this win indicates that voters from Easttown did not appreciate Mr. Lewis tactics. Cruickshank is currently serving as president of the school board and her win reflects a vote of confidence from the voters on her performance.

Looking at Mercogliano’s win, I am reminded that neither she nor Tara LaFiura participated in the League of Women Voters debate. If I had been a betting person, I would have thought that would have harmed her chances of winning. But she was only 12 votes behind the winner Kris Graham who did participate in the debate.

Here are the unofficial results from the Tredyffrin supervisor races:

TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR AT-LARGE TREDYFFRIN TOWNSHIP
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 2
MICHAEL C HEABERG (REP). . . . . . 4,020    27.09
KRISTEN KIRK MAYOCK (REP) . . . . 4,042    27.24
MOLLY DUFFY (DEM). . . . . . . .               3,636       24.50
F MICHAEL MURPH WYSOCKI (DEM). 3,137       21.14
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 4 .03

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 1ST DISTRICT TREDYFFRIN 1ST DISTRICT
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
PAUL W OLSON (REP) . . . . . . . 1,331      50.21
VICTORIA SNYDER (DEM) . . . . . . 1,318      49.72
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 2 .08

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 3RD DISTRICT TREDYFFRIN 3RD DISTRICT
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
JOHN JD DIBUONAVENTURO (REP) . . . . 1,616    98.54
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 24 1.46

Incumbent Mike Heaberg (R) was re-elected along with Kristen Mayock (R). Only 22 votes separated those two spots. Unopposed in the race, JD DiBuonavnturo (R) was re-elected for District 3. In District 1, Paul Olson (R) will retain his seat on the Board of Supervisors. Tory Snyder (D) gave Olson a real run and came within 13 votes of unseating him.

Based on these results, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors will continue as an all-Republican board. Mayock’s election to the Board adds a third woman – it has been awhile since we had that dynamic. Personally I’m looking forward to that new element and what that will mean for the residents.

In an upset, Jeremy Blackburn (R) was unseated by Analisa Sondergaard (D) as District Judge. I was one of those who believed that our District Judge should be an attorney so I am very supportive of Sondergaard’s win in this election.

MAGISTERIAL DISTRICT JUDGE DISTRICT 15-4-01
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
JEREMY M BLACKBURN (REP) . . . . .   1,847   48.36
ANALISA SONDERGAARD (DEM) . . . . . 1,971    51.61
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 1 .03

In the Chester County District Attorney race, I am pleased that Tom Hogan (R) won this race and will serve the county as our new DA.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
TOM HOGAN (REP) . . . . . . . .  45,036   60.07
SAMUEL C STRETTON (DEM). . . . . . 29,826   39.78
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 106 .14

In the County Commissioner race, the three incumbents, Ryan Costello (R), Terence Farrell (R) and Kathy Cozzone (D) were all re-elected to another term as Commissioners.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 2
RYAN A COSTELLO (REP) . . . . . . 42,232      29.40
TERENCE FARRELL (REP) . . . . . . 40,629    28.29
KATHI COZZONE (DEM) . . . . . . .    31,933     22.23
SUSAN BAYNE (DEM). . . . . . . .  28,736      20.01
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 111 .08

To all the candidates, thank you for all the time and energy spent over these last few months with your campaigns.  To our newly elected officials, the community thanks you and remain hopeful that you will stand behind the campaign promises that you made to the residents.

Yesterday I visited several precincts and spoke to many people.  There was a constant theme in our discussions; I learned that many people in this community were deeply troubled by the campaign rhetoric of the political parties.  They spoke of the infamous yellow signs, the negative campaign mailers and of the robo-calls.  I actually had several people say that they almost stayed home in protest and knew that would not help with the message.  Regardless if you are the winning side or not, please know that the tactics during this campaign season was not what many in the community want.  I hope that in the aftermath of Election Day 2011, the local Republican and Democratic party will take the time to reflect on their campaign strategies for the future.

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League of Women Voters Forum for Tredyffrin Supervisor Candidates . . . A Debate or a ‘Love Fest’?

The League of Women Voters held the Tredyffrin Township supervisor debate last night.  Seven candidates are vying for four seats on the board, with incumbents JD DiBuonaventuro (R), Mike Heaberg (R) and Paul Olson (R) trying for another term.  Candidates stepping out for the first time include Kristen Mayock (R), Tory Snyder (D), Murph Wysock (D) and Molly Duffy (D). Incumbent DiBuonaventuro  is unchallenged in the township’s District 3 race.

The format of the evening was a 2-minute self-introduction by the seven candidates, followed by answers submitted by audience members and ending with closing remarks by. Each candidate was asked the same question, with the initial question rotating through the candidates.  The debate was taped but there will be approximately a 24-hr. delay before residents can watch it at home.

So . . . what was my opinion?  How did the candidates perform?  Was there a theme of the evening?

Buzz phrases of the debate . . .

  • Protection of public safety
  • Hold the line on taxes
  • Economic redevelopment
  • Reinvestment in community
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Avoid unnecessary spending

If I did not know the party affiliation of the supervisor candidates, there were times during the debate that their responses and choice of words were so similar it was hard to differentiate between the Republicans and the Democrats.  Is that an indicator that the politics of Tredyffrin Township fall somewhere in the middle, in the ‘moderate’ range or . . . is it an indicator that the candidates are politically savvy and have figured out what sells to this community?  The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

How were their responses similar? On the topic of Earned Income Tax, every candidate was opposed to adding another tax – an opinion offered equally by both Republican and Democratic candidates.  What was unclear re EIT . . . were the candidates opposed to the EIT for the school district and the township?  Or where they only opposed to the EIT for the township?  I submitted a question to the League of Women Voters that was not chosen that might have clarified the candidate’s positions.  My question, “If the school district (in the next year or two) were to place an EIT on the ballot, what would be your position on taking the 50% to which the township is entitled by state law?”  Would the candidates still be opposed to the EIT under these conditions?  Don’t know.

Although all candidates stated they opposed an EIT, Democratic candidate Tory Snyder indirectly referenced the ‘no EIT’ Republican campaign signs.  Snyder who has served on the township Planning Commission for the last 10 years and served as chair of the Sidewalk Subcommittee understands the value of volunteer’s time who serves on township boards, committees, etc.  So although personally opposed to an EIT, Snyder made a point of the stating her respect for community volunteers serving on the school district’s tax study group, their work and upcoming presentation on the EIT.

All seven candidates repeatedly stated the need for township budget support for police, fire and emergency services. If you recall the 2010 township budget included reduced funding to the fire companies.  However, after hearing the very loud public outcry to replace the reduced fire funding in the budget, three supervisors (Warren Kampf, Bob Lamina and Paul Olson) took their appeal to local businesses and residents and was able to recover the funding for the fire companies.  If last night was any indication, the local fire companies have nothing to worry about when it comes to township funding support. All supervisor candidates listed public safety as a priority and its funding a necessity.

Several candidates spoke of community engagement in order to best represent the desires of their constituents.  Economic revitalization and redevelopment were repeatedly discussed as one question very specifically asked about Chesterbrook and what would the candidates do to improve it.  As current township supervisors, DiBuonaventuro and Heaberg both said that it has been difficult to get to the new owner of the Chesterbrook shopping center. (Australian company Centro Properties sold the shopping center to the Blackstone Group earlier this year).

Candidate Molly Duffy offered that the Chester Valley Trail and Patriot’s Trail would be coming through Chesterbrook.  Duffy explained that the new sidewalk at Penn Medicine would eventually connect through Chesterbrook offering new revitalization opportunities. As an attorney working in real estate and a current member of the township’s Zoning Board, Republican candidate Kristen Mayock offered that she would be able to help potential developers through the system.  Mayock would like to see the township business development process more stream lined and easier to use.

Heaberg discussed the Economic Development Committee that was approved back in April and of his work with the large leasing companies, small business owners and corporate representatives.  Heaberg, with supervisors Phil Donahue and Michelle Kichline are interviewing prospective members for the Economic Development Committee with the idea that the committee will be able to offer assistance in township business development and redevelopment.

It was interesting to note that Democratic candidates Murph Wysocki, real estate attorney,  Tory Snyder, planning professional and Molly Duffy, attorney and small business owner have all applied to serve on the Economic Development Committee.

From my vantage point, probably the most important question asked during the debate was (1) what the candidates viewed were the priorities for the township and (2) how would they fund these priorities.

Candidate Wysocki responded that money and the township budget was a priority. Wysocki suggested the need to prioritize necessary services to taxpayers but at the same time offering the taxpayers better value.  He suggested creatively using grants and pooling purchases as ways to fund the priorities and stated that economic revitalization will broaden the tax base.

DiBuonaventuro stated that there are two priorities facing the township — (1) managing the township budget and (2) reinvestment in the community and township.  Duffy listed economic development as her priority and used Paoli and Chesterbrook as examples of areas that need redevelopment. She stated that the Chester Valley Trail will be a way to increase property values and suggested that vision for the future.

Heaberg stated that ‘my priorities are your priorities’, indicating that he believes in following the priority needs of the residents.  He stated that residents have indicated public safety and infrastructure needs (sewer, paving roads, snow removal, libraries, maintanence of the 13 township parks) as important priorities.  Heaberg believes in addressing priorities in a fiscally responsible way.

Mayock’s list of priorities for the township is two fold; holding the line on taxes and the encouragement of redevelopment.  She supports continuing to keep pressure on the Paoli Transportation Center project; offering that she had contacts that can help move this project.   Olson stated the health, safety and welfare of residents are his priority plus continuing to support the library.  He offered that the township has a $17 million reserve and that was achieved by being fiscally responsible.

Snyder offered that her priority for the township is (1) the management of the $30 million taxpayer’s dollars in the township budget and (2) to bring value to residents for services.  However, beyond that, Snyder wants to bring ‘vision’ to the Board of Supervisors — enthusiastically stating that is what planners ‘do’!  Snyder cited the township’s comprehensive plan that she worked on and of the plan’s specific steps for implementation.  Synder pointed to using qualified professionals who live in the township, as volunteers to help implement the plan, summing up that we “need people that recognize vision”.

As I was leaving the debate, someone commented that it was like a ‘love fest’ among all the candidates.  I knew exactly what this person meant.  It was refreshing . . .  there was no arguing or partisan wrangling; all the candidates (4 Republicans and 3 Democrats) conducted themselves with civility and respect for their fellow candidates.

To all the voters in Tredyffrin Township – let me say, all of these candidates are qualified to serve as your elected officials.  Attorneys, planning professional, small business owners, financial experts, community volunteers . . . yes, it was obvious they all have the experience, background and the credentials to serve.

Your supervisor selection is a very personal choice — I encourage you to watch the entire debate and decide for yourself.  Personally, I think that one candidate excelled last night and one candidate fell a bit short but it should not be about Pattye Benson’s opinion . . . talk to the candidates and ask them your own questions, watch the debate and then take your decision to the polls on November 8.

Your voice does matter and your vote counts!

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No Need for Written Request to St. Davids Golf Club to Build Sidewalks . . . Just a phone call! What happens if you get the answering machine!

I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting last night; primarily to see if the chapter on sidewalks (St. Davids) would finally be closed.  Each time I think that we have turned that corner; there is a new twist that slows the process.

Whether in the audience or watching from home, the ‘Resolution to adopt the Green Routes Pedestrian Network map’ was not without debate. Chairman Bob Lamina stated that they would divide the township into 3 parts for discussion – essentially the east, middle and the western areas.  A torturous process, discussion began with a ‘street by street’ review of the map, starting with the middle section and moving next to the western areas of the township.

The idea behind this resolution was to add a map to the new sidewalk ordinance passed at last month’s BOS meeting.  However, the difficulty and confusion among the supervisors was whether the map was to ‘only’ include roads that would be affected by the newly passed sidewalk ordinance, which in essence were areas of the township where possible commercial development could occur.  Or was the map to contain all suggested sidewalks, trails, etc. that were part of the green routes network as recommended by the special sidewalk subcommittee.

The debate on which sidewalks to include on the map heightened as the discussion moved to the eastern part of the township, specifically Conestoga and Upper Gulph Roads. Supervisor (Supervisor Olson suggested that sidewalks on Conestoga and Upper Gulph Roads be totally removed from the map.)  By the time the supervisors were at the point of voting on the resolution, I am certain many of us were confused as to what exactly was to be included on this ‘Green Routes Pedestrian Network’ map.  I believe that in the end, the supervisors voted 4-3 in favor of the map as presented by the sidewalk subcommittee.  (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong). With much fanfare, Supervisors Richter, Olson and Lamina voted against the resolution.  Richter used ‘storm water issues’ and ‘empty storefronts’ to explain her vote of opposition.

At this point in the meeting, with the map issue resolved, I expected that we would finally move past the sidewalk topic.  However, no, much to the surprise of  audience members (and some of the supervisors) Lamina made a new motion — for broader notification to the public when sidewalks were contained in future land development plans.  There was concern from some audience members that this discussion was not on the agenda and needed further discussion.  Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro questioned Lamina about the timing of the motion, suggesting that because the motion was formally written, that Lamina had sought legal counsel from the township solicitor in advance of the BOS meeting.  Lamina explained that the idea had come to him at lunch, while “eating his bologna sandwich”! Supervisors DiBuonaventuro and Donahue voted against this motion, both believing further discussion was required.  However, the motion did pass 5-2.

Surely, there could be nothing further to say on the topic of sidewalks in Tredyffrin Township.  Not so fast.   Stating that there was some ‘housecleaning’ needed, DiBuonaventuro offered a motion to remove the moratorium on the building of sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club.  The ‘hold’ dated back to the February 22, 2010 supervisors meeting.  Now at this point, I was completely confused.

If you have been following Community Matters, you will note that after last month’s supervisors meeting, I sent a couple of emails to Mimi Gleason, our township manager (copied the BOS and Tom Hogan, township solicitor).  I wanted to understand the next step in the St. Davids sidewalk saga and assumed that since the sidewalk ordinance had passed, the township staff now had the green light to move on enforcement of the sidewalks contained in any open land development agreements (including St. Davids).  I had received the following response from Gleason, which I posted last week on Community Matters,

Before sending letters, the Township now will contact any of the property owners with approved plans that inquired about the need to install sidewalks. They will be informed that they no changes were made to the ordinance that changes anything for their plans. Enforcement proceedings will commence only if they refuse to install the sidewalks.

Based on Gleason’s email response to me, I was completely confused as to why DiBuonaventuro’s motion was necessary but OK; let’s tie up any loose ends.

However, the vote to move St. Davids Gold Club sidewalks along in the process did not come easily.  Again, much discussion, primarily from Olson, who claimed that the township should take the $50,000 that St. Davids Golf Club, had offered not to build the sidewalks . . . further suggesting that St. Davids would instead give the $50K to the fire companies.

There was no way that I was going to let his remarks stand as anywhere close to accurate.  For the public record last night, I stated that (1) St. Davids Golf Club had not offered to give $50K to the fire company and (2) there was never any written offer from St. Davids. The $50K ‘offer’ from St. Davids Golf Club not to build the sidewalks was contained in the 2009 BAWG report but was never substantiated!  To perpetuate misinformation is simply wrong – bringing up the $50K offer from St. Davids was as if the township clock was turned back 20 months! Eventually DiBuonaventuro’s motion passed 6-1 (Olson the sole dissenting vote).

I then asked Gleason about the staff notification process to St. Davids re the sidewalks.  Based on her earlier email to me, I was concerned and was of the opinion, that such a request to St. Davids Golf Club should be ‘in writing’.  No, she explained, the staff would call St. Davids Golf Club and ask them to build the sidewalks.  I said should not there be a paper trail of the notification – how does one track a phone call?  Although she insisted that this was township procedure, I asked how was the public to know if the call was made.  I suggested that no one could ever make a ‘right to know’ request over a telephone call.  Bottom line . . . short of asking the question, “Did you phone St. Davids?” at every supervisors meeting, the public will not know.  I asked what the timeline was for the phone call – I believe her response was, in the next 30 days.

It strikes me odd that after 20 months of St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk debate, the request for St. Davids to complete their 6-year-old land development agreement is not done in writing but with a phone call.

Wonder what happens if the township person calling St. Davids gets their answering machine . . . leave a message and assume that the right person gets it?  Wow . . . is this really how local government works?

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Do all Roads in Tredyffrin Lead to Sidewalks?

Although there was a 5-2 vote to approve the revised sidewalk ordinance at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, confusion over sidewalks still reigns.  I think many would agree had there never been a BAWG report that suggested there was a $50,000 offer from St. Davids Golf Club not to build their ‘agreed upon’ and ‘contracted for’ sidewalks, we would not be where we are today.  (To clarify, the $50K offer was not in writing and never substantiated).

For the last 21 months in Tredyffrin Township, it is as if all roads lead to sidewalks.  The debate over whether St. Davids Golf Club would be required to build their contracted sidewalks has reigned supreme.  A sidewalk subcommittee was formed and for over a year, held public hearings, received resident input, conducted surveys, etc. The results of the sidewalk subcommittee were presented earlier this year to the Board of Supervisors; indicating that the majority of the residents responding favored sidewalks, bike trails, etc. in the township.

The Board of Supervisors instructed the Planning Commission to draft a new sidewalk ordinance.  After several months of discussion and review, the Planning Commissioners presented a sidewalk ordinance proposal to the Board of Supervisors. The supervisors agreed that the new sidewalk ordinance would have no bearing on the 8 currently open land development agreements that contained sidewalk requirements (including St. Davids Golf Club).

For those that attended the supervisors meeting or watched from home, the confusion over the sidewalk ordinance continued to reign supreme.  Although the new ordinance passed 5-2, (Lamina and Olson the dissenting votes) there remains the open issue of the sidewalk ‘map’.  The sidewalk ordinance passed but without a map indicating the sidewalk requirements.  Discussion of the sidewalk map is apparently on the agenda for Monday’s supervisors meeting.  However, there was some discussion from Lamina at the last supervisors meeting, that it may be his intention to go through the map, ‘road by road’ to decide the fate of sidewalks.

Wanting to understand the next step in the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk saga, I sent a couple of emails to Mimi Gleason, our township manager.  I assumed that since the sidewalk ordinance had passed, the township staff now had the green light to move on enforcement of the sidewalks in any open land development agreements (including St. Davids).  I received the following email from Mimi:

Before sending letters, the Township now will contact any of the property owners with approved plans that inquired about the need to install sidewalks. They will be informed that they no changes were made to the ordinance that changes anything for their plans. Enforcement proceedings will commence only if they refuse to install the sidewalks.

Based on Gleason’s response, can we assume that by now St. Davids Golf Club has been contacted.  I am not sure why there was an interim step ‘to contact’ vs sending the letter and will seek clarification.  I will also ask what is timeline for a response before the enforcement letter is sent.  After all the issues surrounding the sidewalks, I think it would be important to have a paper trail in place.

So . . . will St. Davids now build their required sidewalks?  Or . . .  will the country club wait it out, in hopes that their road will somehow disappear from the yet-to-be-approved township sidewalk map? Let’s hope that St. Davids will do what they contractually agreed to do.  How long has it been – 5 or 6 years?

In a letter to the editor in this week’s Main Line Suburban, Tory Snyder, a Planning Commissioner and the chair of the special sidewalk subcommittee, gives an outline of the new sidewalk ordinance. As full disclosure, she indicates that she is a Board of Supervisors candidate in the East District. For folks that may not know, Snyder (D) is running against Paul Olson (R).

The following is excerpted from Snyder’s letter to the editor:

The facts of the newly adopted ordinance are as follows:

  • Sidewalks will be required on about 14 miles of Tredyffrin roads. The current ordinance requires sidewalks on all Tredyffrin roads.
  • All but one of the roads affected by the ordinance are major roads on which pedestrian safety is an issue. None of the roads are local roads per PennDOT or the Township Comprehensive Plan. Within the last two years a child walking along one of these roads with no sidewalks was hit by a car.
  • All roads affected by the ordinance provide needed pedestrian linkages to and from specific destinations, including schools, libraries, parks, train stations and shopping centers.
  • By nature of its location in the Subdivision and Land Development code, ONLY developers of non-residential and multi-unit residential properties would be required to build the sidewalks. Homeowners improving their own properties would not be subject to the sidewalk requirement.

This information lays out the facts and corrects some of the misleading and incorrect information that has been presented.

A planner by profession, Snyder further explains in her letter, “All 12 municipalities within a 25-mile radius of Tredyffrin require sidewalks in their subdivision and land-development codes. Almost all of these codes are stricter than the measured and balanced approach offered by the newly adopted ordinance. Were Tredyffrin to exclude a sidewalk requirement from its code, there would be no plan to add needed sidewalks in the future, and the entire cost of building any sidewalks would be transferred directly to the taxpayers.”

Stay tuned . . . the sidewalk saga continues at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

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